Asparagus Ferns

Fern-likes of the forest.

The genus Asparagus includes very decorative indigenous species and varieties that are popular houseplants or handy shade-garden plants. Although they are commonly called asparagus ferns due to their fernlike appearance, they are not related to ferns at all. They have swollen and fibrous root tubers from which sprout the textured, modified stems called cladodes, which are covered in dense and quite sharp or hard leaf bracts.

Asparagus ferns are evergreen and produce small and fragrant white flowers in summer, followed by bright red berries. They are easy to grow in shade or, preferably, morning sun and afternoon shade, and they like well-draining, compost-enriched soil and regular watering. All can be grown from division of the root system. In case of damage by light frost, the stems can simply be cut back to ground level and the plants will soon re-sprout again. All three plants mentioned below are popular foliage and filler material in the floristry trade.

‘Green Ripple’

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Green Ripple’ is a hybrid between ‘Meyersii’ (cat’s tail) and A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (emerald fern or basket fern), which gives it the attributes of a fairly loose and relaxed cat’s tail fern with a softer foliage texture. The dark green foliage is loosely compacted, fine needled and can cascade elegantly over pots. This is a lovely feature plant for indoor and outdoor containers, or in garden beds as a specimen plant with a lovely fountain shape. It can also be used in dramatic mass planting. Expose to full sun or semishade in the garden and in high-light areas indoors. Dimensions are about 1m x 1.2m.

Large forest asparagus

Asparagus falcatus, which is also known as the sicklethorn, has a sprawling and climbing growth habit that, if left unchecked, can reach a height of 5 – 7m. Mature stems are light grey with sharp backwards-curving thorns that the plant uses to grip onto a host plant in order to climb towards the sun. This fast-growing asparagus, with its wicked thorns, can be used as a security hedge, and the birds love it as a sheltering plant preventing predators from harming their nests. The shiny and dark green leaves are long and sickleshaped with a prominent vein. Although fast-growing and wild in a natural state, it can be tamed to become a lovely house or patio plant in a pot.

Cat’s tail fern

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’, also called the foxtail fern or cat’s tail fern, is loved for its thick downy stems between 50 and 100cm long (depending on conditions), which form a unique clump of evergreen foliage. This is one of the best foliage plants to use in the shade garden, near a pond or in a rock garden (it will adapt to sun). If planted in a mass, the strong tuberous root systems will bind the soil and prevent erosion. Alternatively, use it in fairly large pots or hanging baskets on a shady patio. It can also be grown as a no-fuss indoor plant in bright light.

The Gardener