The Asparagus Fern is a frilly, trailing plant that looks wonderful in hanging baskets. Use it as the “spiller” in container arrangements, or cut stems to use in floral arrangements. It’s a really easy-to-care for and fast-growing plant, great for novice plant caretakers. Although the feathery leaves of this plant resemble the fronds of a fern, the “Asparagus Fern” is not an actual fern. Rather, it is a member of the Asparagus genus, and depending on the source, it is categorized in either the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae) or the Lily family (Liliaceae).
There are several species that fall under this common name, Asparagus Fern, and all are native to Southern Africa. The story of how they were first introduced to the United States is quite interesting. They were first cultivated in the U.S. in Florida by the daughter of a former governor and U.S Senator of Missouri and niece of President James K. Polk, Cornelia Polk Drake, in the 1890s. Here’s a neat article where I learned about it (JSTOR is offering free access to their huge academic online library during the COVID-19 quarantine – might as well take advantage and learn something new!)
A few species of Asparagus Fern include Asparagus retrofractus, A. aethiopicus, A. densiflorus, A. plumosus, and A. setaceus. These species are all quite similar to one another, with small variations in structure and leaf texture only. Here are some pictures to compare.
CAUTION: Asparagus Ferns are toxic when consumed, so make sure to keep small children and pets away.
Asparagus Fern Care
Place your Asparagus Fern in part sun to shade. When they receive too much light, they start to shed their foliage. Shield them from direct south sun. Inside, they like a northeast facing window, where they will receive moderate light. If the leaves are yellowing, it is most likely receiving too much sun. If they are turning brown, it could be the result of not enough sun.
As for water, you should let the soil dry out in between waterings. Asparagus Ferns bounce back readily after drying out. Droopy plants may look like they are on the verge of death, but a quick drink will revive them to good as new. They also like humidity, which will be no problem if you keep it outdoors during the warm months, but indoors, it will appreciate a regular misting. When potting, use a very well-draining soil to help prevent over-watering.
Bring your Asparagus Fern outside when temps are warm. They don’t like weather below 55°F for too long. 70°F is prefect for them, but they can definitely handle warmer. Make sure to bring them indoors before it gets cold again. Alternatively, you can keep them indoors year-round.
Fertilize weekly or bi-weekly with a 1/2 strength fertilizer.
With proper conditions and care, your plant will produce small, white flowers and green berries that ripen to bright red. If your plant produces berries, you can harvest the seeds and plant them to grow more. You can also multiply the number of Asparagus Ferns you have by dividing their tuberous root stalk.
Display your Asparagus Fern in a hanging basket or as the “spiller” in a container garden. You can treat it as an annual and plant it in your garden bed as well. You will not be disappointed!