Ground asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus)

Also known as: asparagus fern, basket fern, Sprengeri's fern, bush asparagus, emerald asparagus

Ground asparagus is an invasive perennial plant with long prickly stems. It has an extensive root system and is a prolific seeder.

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How does this weed affect you?

Gound asparagus forms dense blankets of growth above ground and a profusion of roots and tubers below ground which suppresses other ground flora and reduces available soil moisture and nutrients. It is able to tolerate dry periods due to its well developed crowns and numerous tubers. Its is a common garden plant which easily re-establishes after being dumped as garden waste and has become a serious environmental weed.

Where is it found?

Groung asparagus is native to South Africa where it is restricted to the Cape Province and Natal. In New South Wales it is common along the coast from the Queensland border to near Batemans Bay. 

How does it spread?

Ground asparagus reproduces both by seed and vegetatively from its crown or corm. Fragments of the short, crown-forming rhizomes can generate new plants, however the roots and tubers themselves cannot reproduce vegetatively, and act only as storage organs.

Spread occurs through the sale of nursery stock to gardeners, the dumping of garden waste containing crowns, fruits and seeds, and when birds feed on the fruit and disperse the seed. 

What does it look like?

Ground asparagus is a perennial plant with many arching, persistent stems 1-2 m long arising from a central corm or crown (a compressed group of very short rhizomes that forms a growing point for stems, sitting just below the surface of the soil). The roots are either well-developed and fleshy, bearing numerous, white, watery tubers (roughly ovoid in shape and 1.5 to 3 cm long), or finer and fibrous. The root system forms dense underground clumps and mats.

Stems are hairless, green to brown, often irregularly twisted, with older stems bearing short, straight, stiff spines, 5-10 mm long, just below many of the numerous short, leafy side branches. The "leaves", which occur in clusters of 1-5, are really cladodes (short, flattened stems that look and function like leaves). They are 1.5 to 2.5 cm long, 0.2 to 0.3 cm wide and taper to a fine short point. 

The white-pink flowers, each about 5 mm in diameter, are spaced along a short stem. 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.

Habitat

Ground asparagus grows in warm-temperate regions within a temperature range with rainfall from 500 to 1500 mm annually. Preferring sandy or skeletal soils, it occurs in situations ranging from coastal dunes to open woodland, especially where some shade is available. 

References

Le Cussan J (2006). Eradication of invasive alien plants on Lord Howe Island, NSW, using three asparagus species (Asparagus asparagoides, A. plumosus, A. aethiopicus) as a case study. Plant Protection Quarterly 21, 117-21.

Parsons WT and Cuthbertson EC (2001). Noxious weeds in Australia 2nd Edn, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Vivian-Smith G, Gosper CR, Grimshaw T and Armstrong T (2006). Ecology and management of subtropical invasive asparagus (Asparagus africanus Lam. and A. aethiopicus L.). Plant Protection Quarterly 21.

Asparagus Weeds Management Manual (2013), NSW Office of Environment and Hertiage

PittwaterEcowarriers, Asparagus Weed Control 1. Asparagus aethiopicus (ground asparagus), https://www.youtube.com

Personal communication (March 2016), Cat Smykowsky, Bush regenerator, Northern coastal NSW.

Other publications

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Control

The rate and spread of ground asparagus can be minimised by preventing seed formation and contolling plants before flowering begins.

Plants can be controlled by crowning - the practice of digging out the entire crown or corm (by severing the tough surrounding roots) that sits just below the surface of the soil, and leaving the roots and watery tubers in situ. This helps to prevent unnecessary disturbance in sensitive areas, particularly coastal dune environments. 

Any small segment of the crown that is left behind can grow a new crown. Bag and burn the crown and any fruiting stems. Carefully spot spray, or recrown any regrowth or seedlings. Care must be taken when applying herbicides to avoid damaging desirable species growing nearby. 

Large infestations may require spot spraying, and a penetrant should be used in coastal areas where ground asparagus forms a waxy coating. 

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Starane™ Advanced)
Rate: 300 to 600 ml in 100 L of water
Comments: Spot spray application
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 50 parts water
Comments: Spot spray application, best done between flowering and berries forming.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump/scrape stem.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Glyphosate 360 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: Tank mix of up to 2 L glyphosate + 15 g metsulfuron-methyl per 100 L water.
Comments: Spot spray. Use a penetrant in coastal areas where the asparagus plants have a formed a waxy coating. For the treatment of this weed in areas of native vegetation, eg. subtropical rainforest remnants, littoral rainforest and other bushland reserves.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Brush-off®)
Rate: 1–2 g/10 L water plus non-ionic surfactant (0.1 % or 1 mL/L)
Comments: Spot spray application, best done between flowering and berries forming.
Withholding period: Nil (recommended not to graze for 7 days before treatment and for 7 days after treatment to allow adequate chemical uptake in target weeds).
Herbicide group: B, Inhibitors of acetolactate synthase (ALS inhibitors)
Resistance risk: High


Picloram 44.7 g/kg + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump application
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
All of NSW Prohibition on dealings
Must not be imported into the State or sold
South East
Exclusion zone: whole region except the core infestation area of Wollongong, Kiama, Eurobodalla, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Exclusion zone: The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfill the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW Invasive Plants and Animals Enquiry Line on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2017