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Scientific: Asparagus densiflorus
Common: asparagus fern, cat's tail asparagus
Family: Asparagaceae (formerly Liliaceae)
Origin: South Africa

Pronounciation: A-SPAR-a-gus den-si-FLOR-us

Hardiness zones
USDA 9 (as summer annual in cooler climates)-11

Landscape Use: Ground covers, accent, border, indoor pot plant in bright indirect light, entry plants, hanging basket. Use of this plant will dictate selection of the appropriate cultivar.

Form & Character: Stiffly upright to arching, spreading and cascading depending on cultivar, tropical to oriental in character.

Growth Habit: Evergreen, herbaceous perennial, moderate growth rate to 2-feet tall with equal to greater spread, clumping. New stems emerge from the base. Asparagus fern also produces copious numbers of water storing tuberous roots immediately at or just below the ground surface.

Foliage/texture: Leafless, instead of leaves asparagus fern has bunched cladodes (stems as a modified leaf) that are functional equivalents. The stems themselves are green and armed with small spines of variable length and density. Overall, this refined, smallish landscape shrub has a medium fine texture in the landscape.

Flowers & fruits: Small, white flowers in axillary clusters followed by small, ovoid (round), shiny, black-seeded red berries.

Toxicology alert: Fruits can induce gastrointestinal distress and skin dermatitis. They are also toxic to cats and dogs.

Seasonal color: White flowers in spring, red berries in summer to winter.

Temperature: In Phoenix, mostly heat tolerant and cold hardy to 24oF.

Light: Partial shade best, no full sun in Phoenix, especially afternoon western sun.

Soil: Well-drained, sandy to loamy soil best. Asparagus fern has a relatively high nitrogen requirement. Fertilizer in late winter and mid summer.

Watering: Needs regular supplemental water from April to October. Water storing tubers help asparagus fern tolerate some dryness especially during winter.

Pruning: Remove dead stems. Periodically (every 3 years) prune hard to ground to rejuvenate plant appearance.

Propagation: Seed or division of clumps.

Disease and pests: Root rot if soil poorly drained and chronically wet. Be careful to not allow intrusion of Bermuda grass. Also, if grown in Phoenix in proximity to South Mountain Park beware of the javelina. These midnight marauders love to eat asparagus fern stems.

Additional comments: Asparagus fern grows well in Phoenix provided the proper abiotic enivironment is provided, aka supplemental irrigation and protection from the western sun. Currently asparagus fern is receding in popularity in favor of more 'sustainable desert' plants.

Several locally popular named cultivars of Asparagus densiflorus include: