659 Protasparagus densiflorusCommon Names: asparagus fern, emerald fern, foxtail fern Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
Although commonly called asparagus fern, this plant is actually a member of the huge lily family. Asparagus fern is an evergreen perennial with 2-6'-long, arching, light green stems that look like feathery leaves. (The true leaves are reduced to small spines on the stems which cling and help the plant scramble and climb over other plants.) Asparagus fern can get about 2-3' tall and spread out in a mound 3-4' or more across. In summer it bears small (1/2" across) white flowers followed by bright red berries. The typical species is less commonly grown than the popular cultivars.
Foxtail fern (P. densiflorus cv. 'Myersii') has stiffly upright stems to 2' long, with very dense, cylindrical plume-like foliage, giving the plant a fluffy, cloud-like appearance. The stems are like bottle brushes, 2-3" in diameter, and tapering gradually to the tips.
Emerald fern or emerald feather (P. densiflorus cv. 'Sprengeri') has arching and drooping foliage 3-4' long, with needlelike stems in dense clusters. It has an open, spreading appearance, and heavily scented flowers. This is the most common ornamental asparagus in cultivation. Several other selections are available including 'Sprengeri Deflexus' with broader leaf-like stems; 'Sprengeri Nanus', that is a dwarf form; and 'Sprengeri Robustus' that is larger.
Asparagus fern, Protasparagus densiflorus, is native to South Africa. It has escaped cultivation and become a serious pest weed in parts of southern Florida.
CultureLight: Asparagus fern needs good bright light, but not direct sun. It does best in partial shade. The foliage will turn yellow in deep shade. Moisture: Asparagus fern does best with regular watering, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 12. Asparagus fern is killed to the ground by light freezes, but recovers quickly. It is root-hardy in Zone 8. Propagation: Can easily be grown from seed or by division of the tuberous root mass.
Used as a ground cover, foxtail fern forms beautiful, cloud-like mounds of fine-textured foliage. Use it in a semi-shady area, along a walkway or under large trees. Emerald fern is a very popular house plant that looks great in hanging baskets, window boxes and urns. Both cultivars are used in floral arrangements.
Emerald fern and foxtail fern are inexpensive and easy to grow houseplants. The foliage of either makes a nice filler in floral arrangements.
Emerald fern, foxtail fern and the closely related common asparagus fern (P. seteceus) were formerly classified in the genus, Asparagus, along with the edible garden asparagus (A. officinalis). Some experts still keep them all in the same genus, but Asparagus has rhizomes, and Protasparagus does not.
Asparagus fern is listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council as a species that is invading and disrupting native plant communities in central and southern Florida. In warm climates, it can spread and become difficult to keep under control.
Jack Scheper 1/16/99 updated: 2/12/00, 3/14/00, 8/4/07