Asparagus fern (Asparagus virgatus)

Also known as: broom asparagus

Asparagus fern is an erect herb or shrub originally introduced as an ornamental plant. It is an emerging environmental weed over a wide range of coastal and sub-coastal habitats.


How does this weed affect you?

Asparagus fern has the potential to invade a wide range of coastal and sub-coastal plant communities, in areas north from Sydney.

It competes with native ground cover and understorey plants by forming dense infestations that smother other species and prevent their germination and establishment.

It can form very large, continuous infestations.

Where is it found?

Asparagus fern is a native of eastern and southern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

It was introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant and is still found in older gardens. Its foliage is still used world-wide in the cut flower industry.

It now occurs in coastal and sub-coastal Queensland and is especially common in the south-east of that state. In New South Wales it is not widespread, but occurs mostly in the Sydney district.

How does it spread?

Asparagus fern primarily reproduces from seed, but can also spread vegetatively from rhizomes.

Green foliage is usually present year-round. The main growth period is from autumn through to spring. Flowering occurs mostly in spring. Fruit set occurs from spring to summer, but fruit can be present year-round.

Fruit are spread by birds, foxes, reptiles and other animals that can deposit seeds far from the parent plants. Fruit are also spread in water and garden waste.

Short distance vegetative spread is by rhizomes. 

What does it look like?

Asparagus fern is an erect herb, climber or shrub 0.4-0.8 m tall, usually with year-round foliage.

The root system consists of long, narrow rhizomes and fibrous roots that lack tubers.

Each plant has a small number of erect, spineless, wiry stems.

Leaf-like cladodes (modified stems) and branches are spirally arranged.

Cladodes are borne in groups of mostly 3-6 (rarely 1-7) at each node along the stems. They are soft, hairless, thread-like, cylindrical and relatively small (3-15 mm long and about 0.5 mm wide).

Flowers are small, bisexual (both male and female parts present), greenish-white and borne singly in the axils of the leaves.

Berries are 1-seeded, 4-6 mm in diameter and bright orange at maturity. Fruit are borne year round.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Asparagus fern prefers shady, well-drained locations, but will grow in full sun to greater than 80% canopy closure.

It is primarily found in riparian areas, near forest margins, or in disturbed sites and wasteland near habitation, however it is a potential weed of many habitats. 


Text compilation: Harry Rose.

Technical review: Rod Ensbey.

Editing: Elissa van Oosterhout.


Hosking JR, Sainty GR, Jacobs SWL & Dellow LL (in prep) The Australian WeedBOOK

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)

Plant Database (2014) Asparagus virgatus. Available at 

Weeds of Australia: Asparagus Fern - Asparagus virgatus. Available at 

Other publications

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For assistance with the control of this weed, please contact your local council weeds officer. 

The main methods of control include excluding plants from uninfested areas, physical removal of all plant parts, and herbicide application, depending on:

  • size and density of the infestation
  • accessibility
  • time and resources available
  • habitat infested.

Continued follow-up and re-treatment is essential for all control methods.

Physical control

Seedlings or small plants can be hand-pulled in small-to-medium sized infestations.

Plants can be dug out, but the entire root system needs to be removed.

Physical removal can be difficult, due to the way the root system can spread beneath the roots of nearby vegetation or objects such as rocks, logs and other structures (e.g. fences).

Removal should be done in autumn and winter when soils are moist, prior to flowering or fruiting, and when plants have foliage on them.

Slashing above-ground foliage can be undertaken under some circumstances. However, it will not kill the plants and is not suitable for natural areas. It is usually undertaken around 6 months prior to treatment with herbicides (foliar spraying).

Herbicide control

Herbicide applications are recommended for medium-to-large infestations, but can also be used for small infestations.

Suitable methods are cut and paint, basal bark spray and foliar spot spray. Apply when plants are actively growing.

Foliage often mingles with desirable vegetation, making off-target damage from foliar spraying problematic. The foliage also provides little surface area for chemical uptake.

Other methods

There are currently no biological control agents for asparagus fern.

Herbicide options

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

See Using herbicides for more information.

PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Staraneā„¢ Advanced)
Rate: 300 to 600 mL per 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 / stem scrape application
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 per 10 L of water plus a non-ionic surfactant.
Comments: Spot spray application, best done between flowering and berry formation.
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.
Land Area 1: whole of region except Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Land Area 2: Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
Regional Recommended Measure*
Land Area 1. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify the Local Control Authority if found. Land Area 2. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
North Coast
Exclusion zone: Whole region excluding the core infestation area of Nambucca Valley Council, Kempsey Shire Council, Port Macquarie Hastings Council, Richmond Valley Council, Ballina Shire Council, Lismore Council, Kyogle Council, Byron Shire Council and Tweed Shire Council.
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: The plant or parts of the plant should not be traded, carried, grown or released into the environment. Exclusion zone: The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Core infestation area: Land managers should reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
*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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Reviewed 2018