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Scientific Name
Synonyms
Common Names
Family
Origin
Naturalised Distribution
Cultivation
Habitat
Distinguishing Features
Habit
Stems and Leaves
Flowers and Fruit
Reproduction and Dispersal
Impacts
Similar Species
Legislation
Management
Sources
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Click on images to enlarge


infestation (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, USGS)


habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


habit of young plants (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


roots and stem bases (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


stems (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


close-up of stem showing thorns (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


'leaves' (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


'leaves' (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


close-up of 'leaves' (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


immature and mature fruit (Photo: Jackie Miles and Max Campbell)


close-up of mature fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

Climbing asparagus fern
Asparagus plumosus

Scientific Name

Asparagus plumosus Baker

Synonyms

Asparagus comorensis hort.
Asparagopsis setacea Kunth
Asparagus setaceus (Kunth) Jessop
Protasparagus plumosus (Baker) Oberm.

Common Names

asparagus fern, climbing asparagus, climbing asparagus fern, common asparagus fern, feathered asparagus fern, ferny asparagus, fern -asparagus

Family

Asparagaceae (Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT and Western Australia)
Liliaceae (Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory)

Origin

Native to southern and eastern Africa (i.e. Kenya, Zambia and South Africa).

Naturalised Distribution

A relatively widespread species that is mostly found in the coastal regions of southern and eastern Australia. It is most common near the major urban areas in south-eastern Queensland (i.e. Brisbane), New South Wales (i.e. Sydney) and South Australia (i.e. Adelaide). It is also naturalised in other parts of New South Wales, in south-western Western Australia, in southern Victoria, in central Queensland, and on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. There are also unconfirmed reports that it is naturalised near Cairns in northern Queensland.

Also naturalised in other parts of the world, including southern USA (i.e. in California and Florida), Puerto Rico, and some Pacific Islands (e.g. Hawaii and Tonga).

Cultivation

Climbing asparagus fern (Asparagus plumosus) has been widely cultivated as a garden plant, particularly in southern and eastern Australia.

Habitat

A weed of tropical, sub-tropical and warmer temperate regions that is mostly found in rainforests, forest margins, urban bushland and wetter open woodlands. It is also commonly found growing along roadsides, in disturbed sites, and in parks and gardens.

Distinguishing Features

Habit

A long-lived (i.e. perennial) climber with stems up to 5 m or more long.

Stems and Leaves

The long-lived (i.e. perennial) stems are green to reddish brown in colour, hairless (i.e. glabrous), and either spineless or with some scattered spines. These stems grow in a twining fashion and produce numerous short, horizontal-spreading (i.e. lateral), branches.

The short, horizontal-spreading, (i.e. lateral), branches bear numerous tiny 'leaves' that give the plant a ferny appearance. The actual leaves are reduced to tiny scales and what appear to be the 'leaves' are actually small stems which look like and function as leaves (i.e. cladodes). Several of these hairless (i.e. glabrous) needle-like 'leaves' (4-7 mm long and about 0.5 mm wide) are produced in a cluster above each scale leaf.

Flowers and Fruit

The flowers are produced singly or in pairs in the forks (i.e. axils) of the scale leaves along the short lateral branches. They have three greenish-white sepals and petals (3-4 mm long), that are hard to distinguish from each other (i.e. six tepals or perianth segments), and six yellow stamens. Flowers are produced from spring through to early autumn.

The fruit are small rounded (i.e. globular) berries (4-5 mm across) and are initially green in colour. These berries turn black or bluish-black as they mature and contain one to three seeds (2.5-3.5 mm across) that are also black in colour.

Reproduction and Dispersal

This plant reproduces mainly by seed. Its berries are readily eaten and dispersed by fruit-eating (i.e. frugivorous) birds and other animals. Seeds may also be spread in dumped garden waste.

Impacts

This species is regarded as an environmental weed in New South Wales and Queensland and was recently listed as a priority environmental weed in three Natural Resource Management regions. It is ranked among the top 100 most invasive weeds in south-eastern Queensland, where it is of particular concern in dry rainforests, and is actively managed by community groups in this region. Climbing asparagus fern (Asparagus plumosus) also appears on numerous regional environmental weed lists in New South Wales (e.g. on the Bushland Friendly Nursery Scheme environmental weeds list for north-eastern New South Wales and the environmental weed list for the wider Sydney and Blue Mountains region) and was recently ranked among the top twenty environmental weeds during a survey conducted in the North Coast region of this state.

In New South Wales it is extensively naturalised in coastal districts north from Royal National Park and it is often a serious weed in native bushland, coastal environs and rainforest communities. Once established it is difficult to eradicate and it is one of the species that has led to "the invasion and establishment of exotic vines and scramblers" being listed as a "key threatening process" in New South Wales. It is also one of a handful of exotic weeds that have the potential to significantly alter the habitat of the endangered Lord Howe woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris), as it is a major weed of rainforests on Lowe Howe Island.

Similar Species

Climbing asparagus fern (Asparagus plumosus) is very similar to another species known as climbing asparagus fern (Asparagus africanus ) and similar to ground asparagus fern ( Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri'), bridal veil (Asparagus declinatus ), bridal creeper (Asparagus asparagoides ), garden asparagus (Asparagus officinalis ), sicklethorn (Asparagus falcatus ), Ming asparagus fern (Aspargaus retrofractus) and other asparagus ferns (Asparagus scandens  and Asparagus virgatus ). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

It is also similar to the native asparagus fern (Asparagus racemosus) which is only found in northern Australia. These two species can be distinguished by the following differences:

Legislation

This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:

Management

For information on the management of this species see the following resource:

Sources

Anonymous (2002). A Global Compendium of Weeds. http://www.hear.org/gcw. Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk Project and Department of Agriculture, Perth, Western Australia.

Anonymous (2002). Approved Recovery Plan for the Lord Howe Woodhen. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville New South Wales.

Anonymous (2006). Asparagus plumosus Baker, Liliaceae. Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER): plant threats to Pacific ecosystems. http://www.hear.org/pier/species/asparagus_plumosus.htm. Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Hawaii, USA.

Anonymous (2006). Australia's Virtual Herbarium. http://www.anbg.gov.au/avh. Australian National Botanic Gardens, Environment Australia, Canberra, ACT.

Anonymous (2006). Declared Plants of Queensland. Natural Resources and Water Facts - pest series, PP1. The State of Queensland (Department of Natural Resources and Water), Brisbane, Queensland.

Anonymous (2006). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/index.pl. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, National Genetic Resources Program, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

Anonymous (2006). National List of Naturalised Invasive and Potentially Invasive Garden Plants. Version 1.2. World Wildlife Fund - Australia (WWF Australia).

Anonymous (2007). NSW Department of Primary Industries. http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange, New South Wales.

Anonymous (2007). Weeds Australia. http://www.weeds.org.au. National Weeds Strategy Executive Committee, Launceston, Tasmania.

Auld, T.D. and Hutton, I. (2004). Conservation issues for the vascular flora of Lord Howe Island. Cunninghamia  8: 490-500.

Barker, B., Barker, R., Jessop, J. and Vonow, H. (2005). Census of South Australian Vascular Plants. Fifth Edition. The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium, Government of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.

Batianoff, G.N. and Butler, D.W. (2002). Assessment of invasive naturalized plants in south-east Queensland. Plant Protection Quarterly 17: 27-34.

Bostock, P.D. and Holland, A.E. (2007). Census of the Queensland Flora 2007. Queensland Herbarium, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Brisbane, Queensland.

Coleman, H. (1997). *Asparagus plumosus Baker. FloraBase: The Western Australian Flora. http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au. Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), Perth, Western Australia.

Green, P. (1994). Flora of Australia, Volume 49, Oceania Islands 1. Australian Biological Resources Study and CSIRO Publishing, Canberra, ACT.

Keighery, G. and Longman, V. (2004). The naturalized vascular plants of Western Australia. 1: checklist, environmental weeds and distribution in IBRA regions. Plant Protection Quarterly 19: 12-32.

Kleinschmidt, H.E., Holland, A. and Simpson, P. (1996). Suburban Weeds. 3rd Edition. Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Lazarides, M., Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO Handbook of Australian Weeds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.

Muyt, A. (2001). Bush Invaders of South-East Australia. R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Meredith, Victoria.

Navie, S.C. (2004). Declared Plants of Australia. CD-ROM. The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland.

Navie, S.C., Markwell, B., Playford, J. and Adkins, S.W. (2002). Suburban and Environmental Weeds: an interactive identification and information system. CD-ROM. The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland.

NSW Scientific Committee (2006). Exotic vines and Scramblers - Key Threatening Process declaration - final. NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, Sydney, New South Wales.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992). Noxious Weeds of Australia. Inkata Press, Melbourne, Victoria.

Stanley, T.E. and Ross, E.M. (1989). Flora of South-eastern Queensland. Volume 3. Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Walsh, N.G. and Stajsic, V. (2007). A Census of the Vascular Plants of Victoria. Eighth Edition. National Herbarium of Victoria, South Yarra, Victoria.

Wilson, K.L. (2005). Asparagus plumosus Baker. New South Wales Flora Online. PlantNET - The Plant Information Network System of Botanic Gardens Trust. http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au. Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney, New South Wales.