Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Originally from South Africa, Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus), a Weed of National Significance, is a perennial evergreen herb that has become a serious environmental weed in temperate to tropical climates, especially in coastal or damp areas.
  • It is a common garden plant which easily re-establishes after being dumped as garden waste and is commonly spread by birds who eat the fruits dispersing viable seeds in dropping up to several kilometres away from parent plant.
  • Forms dense impenetrable thickets that smothers other plants, excluding desirable species, also impacting native animals
  • Produces a profusion of below ground rhizomes and tubers which suppresses other ground flora and reduces available soil moisture and nutrients.
  • The extensive root system and prolific seed production makes control difficult requiring very long-term commitment over decades, with repeated control action and monitoring requiring an integrated management strategy.
  • Control options include; chemical with a variety of application options; non-chemical including, mechanical, hand pulling, and crowning (removing underground rhizome to kill plant), with long term follow-up critical.
  • All control programs should aim to reduce the amount of seed produced, with prevention the most cost-effective form of weed control.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) is a perennial, evergreen (retaining stems and leaves year round), scrambling herb, with many low growing sprawling, arching, or near erect stems to up to 2 m long, green to brown, rounded with ridges along the length, often irregularly twisted with many short branches. Older stems have short straight stiff pungent spines, 5-10 mm long, just below many of the numerous short leafy side branches. The "leaves", (called cladodes are flattened stems that look and function like leaves ) and occur in clusters of 1-5. "Leaves" (cladodes) are 15 to 25 mm long, 0.2 to 0.3 cm wide and taper to a fine short point. The true leaves are small scales that occur at the base of the cluster of cladodes (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

The root system forms dense underground clumps and mats (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006) composed of two parts; a crown; and the main roots with tubers. The crown, a dense clump below the soil surface, are underground stems (rhizomes or growing points) that are capable of vegetative reproduction, producing new stems and producing new plants if the above ground (stems and leaves) are detached. The main fleshy roots and swollen fleshy white tubers act as an underground storage system for the plant and are not capable of producing new stems or plants, but the tubers are roughly ovoid in shape and 15 to 30 mm long.

The flowers are white to creamy-white to pale pink,  bisexual (with male and female parts in one flower), about 5 mm in diameter, are borne (grow) spaced out along a short stem in elongated clusters of 4-8.

The fruit is a berry, 5-8 mm wide, green at first then maturing to a glossy red. It contains one or a few black, globular seeds 3-5 mm diameter (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006). It reproduces both by seed and vegetatively from rhizomes (underground stems).

Recognition: This species can normally be recognised by the combination of the following characters; Crown forming roots with fleshy roots and scattered tubers; stems to 2 m long ribbed; leaves 15 to 25 mm long, 0.2 to 0.3 cm wide in groups of 2-5; Fruits red.

For further information and assistance with identification of Asparagus Fern contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

White, to creamy-white, to pale pink

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) is confined to warm temperate regions with rainfall of 500 to 1500 mm per year. It usually prefers infertile, shallow, sandy soils. Asparagus Fern likes shady niches and has been recorded as occurring in woodlands, littoral rainforest, rainforest gullies, on rocky headlands, in a variety of coastal dune communities, immediately adjacent to mangrove communities, on riverbanks, on sandstone sites with sandy soil, in moist weedy gullies and on shady roadsides. It is also naturalised in cemeteries (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

Are there similar species?

There are 8 introduced species of Asparagus naturalised in Australia – Asparagus aethiopicus, A. africanus (Ornamental Asparagus), A. asparagoides (Common Bridal Creeper), A. declinatus (Bridal Veil), A. plumosus (Climbing Asparagus), A. officinalis (Edible Asparagus), A. scandens and A. virgatus (both also known as Asparagus Fern) (Batchelor & Scott 2006).

Of these Asparagus aethiopicus is most likely to be confused with A. scandens. It differs from A. scandens in having longer and wider "leaves" (15-25 mm long and 2-3 mm wide for A. aethiopicus compared with 5-15 mm long and 0.5-1.5 mm wide in A. scandens). A. aethiopicus has flowers that occur grouped along a short stem whilst A. scandens has solitary flowers. In addition the latter species also is more rampant in growth, climbing over shrubs and trees (Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

Ornamental Asparagus, Edible Asparagus, Climbing Asparagus and A. virgatus have needle-like "leaves" about or less than 0.5 mm wide. A. asparagoides, has broadly ovate "leaves" 4-30 mm wide. These species should be less likely to be confused with A. aethiopicus (Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) is a Weed of National Significance. It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts. it is an invasive spiny shrub that forms dense impenetrable thickets excluding desirable species

Agriculture: Asparagus aethiopicus is not known or reported as a problematic agricultural weed. 

Native ecosystems: Asparagus aethiopicus is an aggressive and problematic environmental weed. It grows in a range of undisturbed to disturbed sites in native habitats in full to partial shade. Asparagus aethiopicus forms dense blankets (monocultures) of growth above ground, and a profusion of rhizomes and tubers below ground which suppresses other ground flora and reduces available soil moisture and nutrients impacting native animals. It is able to tolerate dry periods due to its well developed rhizomes and numerous tubers (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Le Cussan 2006; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

Urban areas: Grows on urban fringes and edges, on abandoned or degraded land, that further spread beyond in to native vegetation.

How does it spread?

Vegetative dispersal of Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) is by sale of nursery stock to gardeners, and by the dumping of garden refuse containing tubers and seed.

Natural spread from cultivated or wild populations can be extensive with seeds spread several kilometres by birds. Birds feed on the coloured fruit and disperse the apparently indigestible seed in scats (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006). Seeds spread to areas free of Asparagus aethiopicus with new plants germinating and new populations establishing in pristine weed-free native ecosystems.

What is its history in Australia?

Asparagus Fern was introduced to Australia in the late 19th century as a garden or pot plant and has since become naturalised (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Control of Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) is possible by chemical and mechanical means. However, when mature flowering plants and rhizomes are removed seedling may germinate from the soil seed bank and follow-up treatment is critical. Integrated control methods combining techniques, with long term follow-up is advised for success. Preventing spread to new areas by animals is difficult, so preventing seed set is important and the best form of control. When controlling Asparagus aethiopicus, the underground rhizome need to be removed or comprehensively killed as re-growth can occur. Large plants with extensive root systems and underground rhizomes (underground growing points), can sometimes survive herbicide application as some rhizomes are not  killed and follow-up may be required.

Chemical control: In large infestations spot spraying or brushing with herbicide is more practicable than manual removal as soil disturbance can de-stabilise fragile coastal soils and leave sites open to re-infestation by Asparagus aethiopicus and other weeds. Timing of application is important with some herbicides and follow up spraying will be needed to control newly emergent seedlings (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Breadon et al. 2006; Le Cussan 2006). Herbicides can be applied directly to leaves and stem when actively growing at the correct time of year. Many rhizomes may survive and re-sprout.

The cut-stump treatment (cut and swab; cut and paint or cut stump methods), where the plant is cut off just above ground level and herbicide is applied to freshly cut stem. However, if the plant has large energy reserves some underground rhizomes parts can survive and regrow so follow-up is advised when using this method. Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au .

Non-chemical control: Physical control: Small infestations can be controlled by hand pulling and crowning, and should be used where practical. Hand pulling can only be used for small plants, and the rhizomes (main growing points at the top of the soil where the stem emerge) should be removed when hand pulling. If the plant breaks leaving any or all the rhizome, plants will immediately regrow.  

Crowing: Other smaller infestation with large plants should aim to remove fertile above ground parts, and the below ground rhizomes (underground growing points that stems emerge from). Crowning is a useful method for removing Asparagus aethiopicus and other crown-forming Asparagus species (with all underground points concentrated close to the soil surface where the stem emerge). This method of control involves removing the rhizomes (the growing points) and prevents the plant from regrowing. Other roots and swollen tubers can be left in the soil as these are not growing points and will not regrow. However, as some rhizomes may be missed, (left in the soil), continued monitoring should be carried out not only for re-growth but for seedling germination (Office for Environment and Heritage, 2013). Prevention of flowering is vital in existing stands as once fruits are set, control of their dispersal by birds is near impossible . 

Mechanical control: However, for large dense infestations where little to no native plants remain mechanical removal of above ground parts may help. infestations the removal of above 

Disposal: When removing material off-site, rhizomes can regrow and re-shoot if not killed. Any rhizomes that come in to contact with the ground, on or off site, will re-shoot. Material can be composted or solarised and the same methods should be used for the fruits containing seeds, as these can germinate and grow in to new plants. 

For further information see the Asparagus Weeds Best Practice Management Manual (available at https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Animals-and-plants/Pests-and-weeds/asparagus-weeds-management-manual-130486.pdf ).

Biological control: There are currently no biological control agents available in Australia for this species of asparagus. 

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Seeds of Asparagus Fern germinate and young seedlings establish and continue to produce tubers during wet periods from February to April, with many leafy non- flowering shoots developing during late autumn. Flowers develop in late winter or early in the second spring about 20 months after germination. The above ground parts of the plant die back in summer but the rhizomes, tubers and seed remain viable in the soil (Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

On older established plants that have died back during the previous summer, new leafy shoots also develop from the rhizomes in late autumn and during winter with flowering in late winter to early spring. Fruit formation and seed set occurs in September and October (Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) has naturalised in south-eastern Queensland and along the coast of New South Wales. In Queensland Asparagus Fern has naturalised in coastal areas and on off-shore islands south from about Hervey Bay to the Gold Coast but is also found much further north in the Mackay area. In New South Wales it is common along the coast from the Queensland border to near Batemans Bay. The weed is also a serious problem on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island (Green 1994; Vivian-Smith & Grimshaw 2006; AVH 2007).

There have been a few recent collections from Victoria from suburban bayside Black Rock to the Mornington area on Port Phillip Bay.  Collections in South Australia are from the cooler Mount Lofty Ranges area around Adelaide and the the southern South-East of the state.

In Western Australia there a several collections from coastal areas near suburban Mullaloo, just north of Perth, and further south near the towns of Augusta and Albany (Bowden & Rogers 1996; Western Australian Herbarium 1998 – ; Scott & Batchelor 2006; AVH 2007; Slee 2007, pers. comm.).

Where does it originate?

Asparagus Fern is native to South Africa where it is restricted to the Cape Province and Natal (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Asparagus aethiopicus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Asparagus aethiopicus 'Sprengeri' (cultivar)
  • Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyers' (cultivar)
  • Asparagus sprengeri Regel
  • Protasparagus aethiopicus (L.) Oberm.
  • Asparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Jessop (misapplied by Pickard, J. 1984, Exotic plants on Lord Howe Island: distribution in space and time, 1853-1981. Journal of Biogeography. 11: 204.; Paczkowska, G. & Chapman, A.R. 2000, The Western Australian Flora, a descriptive catalogue. 37.; Jacobs, S.W.L. & Pickard, J. 1981, Plants of New South Wales. 24.; Rodd, A.N. & Pickard, J. 1983, Census of vascular flora of Lord Howe Island. Cunninghamia. 1: 275.)
  • Protasparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Oberm. (misapplied by Clifford, H.T. & Conran, J.G. 1987, Liliaceae p.p.. Flora of Australia. 45: 161, Fig. 56, Map 168.)

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Asparagus Fern, Ground Asparagus, Basket Fern, Sprengi's Fern, Bushy Asparagus, Emerald Asparagus

National Best Practice Manual

file Asparagus weeds (Asparagus spp.) Management Manual 2013
Office of Environment and Heritage (2013). Asparagus weeds management manual: current management and control options for asparagus weeds (Asparagus spp.) in Australia. Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW), Sydney.

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