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

infestation (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

scrambling habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

climbing habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

stems and older leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

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

leaf undersides and twining growing tips (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

flower clusters with a couple of young fruit beginning to develop (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of the pea-shaped flowers (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of immature fruit, with rough surfaces (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

numerous clusters of mature fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

densely clustered mature fruit with seeds (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up showing the red-and-black seeds and rough surface texture of the pods (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of seeds (Photo: Steve Hurst at USDA PLANTS Database)

close-up of immature fruit of the native form of this species, Abrus precatorius subsp. precatorius, with smooth surfaces (Photo: Chris Gardiner)

Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri'

Scientific Name

Asparagus aethiopicus L. 'Sprengeri'

Synonyms

Asparagus aethiopicus L.
Asparagopsis densiflora Kunth
Asparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Jessop
Asparagus myriocladus Baker
Asparagus sarmentosus L.
Asparagus sprengeri Regel
Protasparagus aethiopicus (L.) Oberm.
Protasparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Oberm.

Family

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

Common Names

asparagus fern, basket asparagus, basket asparagus fern, bushy asparagus, emerald asparagus fern, emerald feather, fern asparagus, ground asparagus, ground asparagus fern, ground fern, protasparagus, regal fern, smilax, Sprenger asparagus, Sprengeri fern, Sprenger's asparagus, Sprenger's asparagus fern, Sprenger's asparagus-fern

Origin

Native to a small region in southern Africa (i.e. Cape Province of South Africa). This species was previously known as Asparagus densiflorus in Australia, but that is now considered to be a separate African species not yet introduced here.

Cultivation

Ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus  'Sprengeri') is widely cultivated as a garden plant, particularly in eastern Australia. Forms of this plant with variegated 'leaves' are also present in cultivation. Another cultivar, known as foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Meyersii'), has also been widely cultivated in Australia.

Naturalised Distribution

This species is widely naturalised in the coastal districts of eastern Australia. It is very common in the coastal districts of south-eastern Queensland, relatively common in the coastal areas of northern New South Wales, and less common in the coastal districts of central and southern New South Wales. It has also been recorded in Victoria, south-western Western Australia, south-eastern South Australia, on Norfolk Island and on Lord Howe Island.

Also naturalised overseas in Hawaii, southern USA (i.e. Florida and California) and New Zealand.

Habitat

A weed of coastal sand dunes, riparian areas, open woodlands, rainforests and forest margins in sub-tropical, warmer temperate and tropical regions. It prefers sandy soils and usually also some shade, and is occasionally also seen in parks, old gardens and disturbed sites.

Habit

A long-lived (i.e. perennial), low-growing, herb with spreading (i.e. erect to sprawling) or arching stems (up to 2 m long) that arise from a tuberous rootstock. When growing up over other vegetation it can sometimes also climb up to 2 m in height.

Distinguishing Features

Stems and Leaves

This species produces creeping underground stems (i.e. rhizomes) and tubers as well as its aboveground stems. The sprawling or arching aboveground stems (mostly 30-100 cm long, but occasionally up to 2 m long) are green to brownish in colour and somewhat rounded, but ridged lengthwise (i.e. longitudinally). Many small branches (up to 10 cm long) and short spines (5-10 mm long) grow outwards from these main stems.

The true leaves are reduced to scales and what appear to be the 'leaves' are, in fact, small flattened stems which function as leaves (i.e. cladodes). One to eight of these slightly flattened and slender (i.e. linear) 'leaves' (15-25 mm long and 2-3 mm wide) are clustered together in the forks (i.e. axils) above each tiny scale leaf. They are hairless (i.e. glabrous) and usually pale green in colour.

Flowers and Fruit

The flowers are borne on short stalks (i.e. pedicels) 4-10 mm long and are arranged in relatively dense elongated clusters (i.e. racemes), 2-10 cm long, in the forks (i.e. axils) of some of the the tiny scale leaves. These flowers are white to pinkish in colour with three sepals and three petals (3-5 mm long) that are very similar in appearance (i.e. the flowers actually have six perianth segments, or tepals, but appear to have six petals). Flowering occurs from spring through to early autumn.

The fruit is a rounded (i.e. spherical) berry (5-8 mm across) and usually contains a single black seed (3-4 mm across). These glossy berries are initially green in colour, but turn red as they mature. Fruit may be present throughout the year.

Reproduction and Dispersal

This species reproduces by seed and also vegetatively via its creeping underground stems (i.e. rhizomes) and tubers.

Its berries are readily eaten by birds and the seed contained within are thereby spread to new areas. Its seeds and underground tubers are also commonly dispersed in dumped garden waste.

Environmental Impact

Ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri') is a significant environmental weed in Queensland and New South Wales, and an emerging environmental weed in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. It is actively managed by community groups in Queensland and is currently listed as a priority environmental weed in five Natural Resource Management regions. Ground asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri') forms a thick mat of tuberous roots and grows particularly well in shaded areas and in sandy soils. It is most prevalent in coastal environs, but has also invaded littoral rainforests, rainforest margins, sclerophyll forests, urban bushland and heathlands. The dense growth of this species may form impenetrable thickets that smother native understorey plants and inhibit their regeneration, thereby transforming the ground layer of native plant communities.

In south-eastern Queensland Ground asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri') is ranked among the top 25 most invasive plant species and is one of the most significant garden escapes invading coastal habitats. For example, it is one of the top 10 weeds in the Gold Coast local government area, with heavy infestations present in Burleigh Heads National Park near the Queensland-New South Wales border. In New South Wales it is also extensively naturalised in coastal districts, especially in the Sydney region, and is a serious weed threat to bushland north from Sussex Inlet. In some places it has become the dominant ground layer plant, even displacing native plants in undisturbed communities. It has also been reported from coastal sand dunes in south-western Western Australia.

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 resources:

Similar Species

Ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri') is similar to the climbing asparagus ferns (Asparagus africanus and Asparagus plumosus), 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:

There is another form of ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) that is also commonly cultivated in Australia, the foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Meyersii'). This plant has not yet become widely naturalised in Australia. Foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Meyersii') can be distinguished from ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri') by its upright or spreading branches that are almost cylindrical in appearance with densely clustered foliage.