Asparagus aethiopicus

Asparagus fern

Nonnative to FloridaFISC Category 1 Invasive
Species Overview

Native to: South Africa

Aspargus fern (not a true fern) 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. Asparagus fern has escaped cultivation and can be found in many natural areas throughout Florida. Birds are highly attracted to the fruit and aid in the dispersal of asparagus fern.

Description
  • Family: Asparagaceae
  • Habit: slightly woody, evergreen herb with a sprawling habit. Tiny spines are borne in axils along branches.
  • Leaves: needle-like, reduced to scales but leaf-like, solitary or with clusters of two or three linear branchlets called cladophylls
  • Flowers: many, small, fragrant white or pale pink flowers in short axillary racemes 1-3 cm long
  • Fruit: small, bright red, 1-3 seeded, globose berry 6-12 mm in diameter
  • Seeds: black 3 mm diameter
  • Distribution in Florida: peninsular Florida

 

Impacts

Asparagus fern spreads by bird-dispersed seeds and vegetatively by tubers, which sprout far from the main plant. 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 is a highly invasive, shade-tolerant perennial plant and is very difficult to control once established due to its extensive root structure and the ability to regrow from small parts of roots.

Management Plan


Management Options

The first step in preventative control of asparagus fern is to limit planting and intentional spread of the species. Inform the public to refrain from purchasing, propagating, or planting asparagus fern due to it's ability to escape from cultivation and grow aggressively in natural areas. Potted specimens used as outdoor houseplants help spread asparagus fern, as the berries are readily eaten by foraging birds.

A diversity of native plants can provide resiliancy against invasive plants. Coontie (Zamia pumila), dwarf Walter's viburnum (Viburnum obovatum ‘nana’), Atlantic St. John's wort (Hypericum tenuifolium), beach creeper (Ernodea littoralis), seaside heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum), and sword fern (Nephroleptis exaltata) are good choices.

Cultural/Physical

Removal of existing plants within the landscape should be practiced and removal should occur before seeds are produced. Care must be exercised to prevent seed spread and dispersal during the removal process.The needle-like leaves complicate control efforts, therefore using gloves and clippers is advised.

Mechanical

Cutting provides some control, although application of an herbicide may be required to control resprouting. Completely remove all roots and tubers from the ground to prevent re-sprouting.

Biological

There are no known biological control programs for asparagus fern.

Chemical

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.

Additional Resources


  1. Atlas of Florida Plants
  2. UF/IFAS Assessment of Nonnative Plants in Florida's Natural Areas
  3. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service- Plants Database
  4. Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)
  5. View herbarium images from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects