Climbing asparagus (Asparagus africanus)

Also known as: asparagus fern, ornamental asparagus

Climbing asparagus is a small shrub or vine with prickly stems, fern-like leaves, and orange-red berries. It outcompetes native plants and reduces habitat and food for native animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Climbing asparagus forms dense thickets above the ground and dense mats of roots below which:

  • outcompete native plants and prevent them from establishing
  • smother ground cover plants and small trees
  • prevents plants from germinating
  • reduce food and habitat for native animals.

Invasion and establishment of exotic vines and scramblers has been identified as a key threatening process for many vulnerable and endangered species in NSW. Climbing asparagus is one of the main species listed as a threat.

What does it look like?

Climbing asparagus is a scrambling shrub or vine with woody stems up to 12 m long It can smother the ground or reach up into the canopy of other vegetation.

Leaf-like cladodes

Climbing asparagus has modified stems called cladodes that look like ferny leaves. The cladodes are:

  • 8–15 mm long and about 0.5 mm wide
  • cylindrical and bristle-like with sharp tips
  • in multiple spirals of 6–12  along the branches that grow off the main stem
  • present year-round.

Flowers are:

  • white to greenish-white
  • small with 6 petals 2.5 - 4 mm long
  • single or in clusters of up to 6
  • at the base of leaf clusters
  • mostly present in spring and summer

Fruit are:

  • round berries
  • green when young and bright orange to orange-red when mature
  • 5–6 mm in diameter
  • single-seeded
  • mostly present from spring to summer but can be present year-round.

Stems:

  • grow from a central crown, that can be up to 60 cm in diameter
  • are up to 12 m long 
  • are ribbed, thick and often woody with multiple branches
  • often have sharp, sometimes curved, spines 6–10 mm long on older stems.

Roots are:

  • thick and fleshy (but without distinct tubers)
  • fibrous
  • with short rhizomes, a type of stem that grows just under the surface.

Similar looking plants

Climbing asparagus looks like:

  • climbing asparagus fern (Asparagus plumosus), which doesn’t usually have spines, and its berries are blue-black when mature, not red
  • native asparagus (Asparagus racemosus), which has longer leaves (up to 3 cm) and does not currently grow in NSW. 

Where is it found?

Climbing asparagus has naturalised in coastal northern NSW. It grows as far south as Sydney. Climbing asparagus is a native of Africa and Saudi Arabia.  It was introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant in the 1800s and was first recorded naturalised in the 1940s.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Climbing asparagus grows in subtropical and tropical climates. It can tolerate dry conditions and grows in a wide variety of natural environments including:

  • coastal dunes, heathland and headlands
  • forests (littoral, wet eucalypt and rainforests)
  • vine thickets
  • open woodlands and brigalow scrub
  • mangroves and along waterways.

 It also invades disturbed areas such as urban bushland, roadsides, parks and gardens.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Climbing asparagus during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2023)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

By seed

Climbing asparagus plants can start producing fruit between 1 and 2 years of age. Up to 21 000 seeds are produced per plant and seeds can survive in the soil for up to 3 years. Birds, foxes, reptiles and other animals eat the fruit and spread the seed. Seeds can also be spread by water and dumped garden waste.

By plant parts

Plants can grow from rhizomes. These can be spread by people dumping garden waste. 

References

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 http://www.plantdatabase.co.uk/Asparagus_virgatus [accessed 02 July 2014]

Weeds of Australia: Asparagus Fern - Asparagus virgatus. Available at http://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/03030800-0b07-490a-8d04-0605030c0f01/media/Html/Asparagus_africanus.htm [accessed 02 July 2014]

More information

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Control

Successful weed control requires follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

To manage climbing asparagus:

  • check for seedlings that germinate in autumn and early winter
  • control plants before they set seed in spring and summer

Physical removal

By hand

Very small seedlings can be hand pulled. Ensure all of the crown is removed.

Crowning

This method involves digging out  the entire crown that sits just below the surface of the soil. The roots are left in the soil. This helps prevent excessive soil disturbance in sensitive areas, particularly coastal dune environments.  

Remove stems and foliage to get access to the crown. Use a sharp knife or trowel to cut all of the roots around the crown just below the surface. Lever the crown out of the ground and dispose of it. Any small segment of the crown that is left behind can regrow.

By machine

Slash or cut before the plant flowers and when there is no fruit present. Slashing or cutting the stems and leaves can stop new fruit from forming, and create access for other control methods. It will slowly weaken the plant but not kill it. Note that green fruits can be viable and set seed even if stems are cut.

Chemical control

Spot spraying

Spray plants that are actively growing. Apply the herbicide mix to all of the foliage. 

Cut stump/scrape stem

Cut the stems as close to the ground as possible. Apply herbicide to the remaining stems and to all of the crown within 15 seconds.

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 31/03/2025
Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Staraneā„¢ Advanced)
Rate: 300 to 600mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Spot spray application
Withholding period: Do not graze failed crops and treated pastures or cut for stock food for 7 days after application. See label for more information.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
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 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
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 31/03/2025
Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 1 - 2 g in 10 L of water plus add a non-ionic surfactant
Comments: Spot spray application
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


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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 pest 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 certain dealings
Must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.
Greater Sydney Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Eradication)
The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify local control authority if found.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Eradication)
Notify local control authority if found. Land managers should eradicate the plant from the land and keep the land free of the plant. A person should not deal with the plant, where dealings include but are not limited to buying, selling, growing, moving, carrying or releasing the plant.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil 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.

Reviewed 2023