Asparagus aethiopicus is native to South Africa and is an evergreen herb that is commonly used as a groundcover or in container plantings. It is also widely used in hanging baskets for its showy foliage and bright red berries. The common name is somewhat deceiving because asparagus fern is not a fern at all, it merely resembles a fern. In fact, asparagus fern is a member of the Liliaceae, or Lily family, which includes plants such as amaryllis, daylilies, hosta, and tulips.
Although this plant is widely cultivated and used across the country as an ornamental, it is on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s list of invasive species as a Category II invasive. Asparagus fern can be found in many natural areas throughout Florida including Hillsborough, Lee, and Polk counties.
Asparagus aethiopicus is a slightly woody evergreen plant with upright or trailing branches, able to grow up to 2 feet in height and 6 feet in length. Tiny spines are borne in axils along branches. Needle-like branchlets are clustered in nodes. From a distance, asparagus fern looks very soft or fluffy. This can be attributed to its fine, needle-like leaves. Flowers are white or pale pink and very fragrant, small and hardly noticeable. Flowering lasts for roughly two weeks during the summer. Fruit is bright red in color and contains 3 seeds per fruit. Birds are highly attracted to the fruit and aid in the dispersal of asparagus fern.
Asparagus fern can be found spreading along roadsides and invading secondary forest systems. Colonies are readily formed which displace native vegetation and prevent native species from reestablishing. Asparagus fern has the potential to be similar to climbing asparagus, with the potential to smother the forest understory and prevent regeneration of canopy species.
The first step in preventative control of asparagus fern is to limit planting and intentional spread of the species. Removal of existing plants within the landscape should be practiced and, if possible, removal should occur before seeds are produced. Care must be exercised to prevent seed spread and dispersal during the removal process.
Inform the public to refrain from purchasing, propagating, or planting asparagus fern due to the ability to escape from cultivation. Potted specimens used as outdoor houseplants may also spread the species, as the berries may be harvested by foraging birds.
Cutting provides some control, although application of an herbicide may be required to control resprouting. Completely remove all roots from the ground.
There are no known biological control programs for asparagus fern.
Glyphosate at 1% solution with 0.25% surfactant has shown good control. Retreatment will probably be necessary to provide complete eradication. Other products may show activity but limited testing has occurred.
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida, Gainesville. 165 pp.
The Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group. Weeds Gone Wild: Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Plant Threats to Pacific Ecosystems
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
For more information and pictures about asparagus fern, view the Langeland/Burks book, Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas.
1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know - Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.