Ground asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus)

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

Ground asparagus is a sprawling low-growing shrub with long, prickly stems. It outcompetes native plants and reduces habitat for native animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Ground asparagus grows very densely above the ground and forms thick mats of tubers and roots underground. It is a serious environmental weed because it:

  • outcompetes native plants for water and nutrients
  • smothers and kills small native herbs and shrubs
  • reduces habitat and restricts movement for native animals
  • changes soil and leaf litter composition, affecting soil life.

Ground asparagus competes with some threatened native plant species and plants that are within endangered ecological communities. 

What does it look like?

Ground asparagus is a low growing, perennial scrambler with arching stems. It can form dense thickets that cover large areas.

Leaf-like cladodes

Asparagus plants have modified stems called cladodes that look like fine, spiky leaves. The cladodes are:

  • usually up to 2.5 cm long and 3 mm wide but may be over 3 cm in heavy shade
  • flat and smooth
  • tapered to a fine short point and may have a distinct midrib
  • in clusters of 2–5 or occasionally single.

Flowers are:

  • white to pink with 6 tepals (that look like petals)
  • about 5 mm in diameter
  • in clusters of 4–8 spaced along a short stem
  • present from spring to autumn.

Fruit are:

  • a berry
  • 5–9 mm wide
  • green at first
  • glossy red when mature usually with only one seed
  • present throughout the year.

Seeds are:

  • black
  • 2-4.5 mm in diameter
  • round.

Stems are:

  • green to brown
  • 1–2 m long with many branches
  • arching and often irregularly twisted
  • numerous and arising from a central crown
  • spiny and hairless.

Spines are:

  • straight and stiff
  • 5-10 mm long
  • mostly on older stems.

Roots:

  • include a central crown with many short rhizomes and fibrous roots
  • tubers form along the roots, these tubers are:
    • cream or white
    • roughly oval-shaped
    • watery
    • 1.5–3 cm long.

Similar looking plants

Similar looking asparagus weeds include:

  • Ming asparagus fern (Asparagus macowanii var. zuluensis) which has dense clusters of white flowers.
  • Foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus) which has leaves (cladodes) that grow much closer together and have a triangular-shaped cross-section rather than flat.

Where is it found?

Ground asparagus grows along the NSW coast from the QLD border to the Victorian border. It is native to South Africa.

What type of environment does it grow in?

It grows in subtropical and warm-temperate regions with 500 mm or more per year. It is drought tolerant and can survive hot, dry conditions. Although frost damages the foliage, it will regrow from the roots. Ground asparagus grows in full sun or shade. It can grow in a range of soil types and thrives in sandy soils.  This weed grows in a wide range of environments including:

  • sandy foredunes and coastal headlands
  • littoral rainforests
  • heathlands
  • open woodlands
  • riparian areas
  • wetlands including estuarine edges, salt marshes and swamps.

 Seedlings can also grow in the forks of trees, in bird’s nest ferns and amongst rocks or leaf-litter.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Ground asparagus during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2022)
    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

Plants start producing fruit when they are 18 months old. Each plant can produce up to 600 seeds per year. The seeds have high viability and most germinate within the first year. Some seed can remain dormant for up to 3 years. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seed.

By plant parts

Plants can shoot from the crown or parts of the crown. The tubers alone cannot regrow, they are just an energy and water store for the plant. People can spread this weed by dumping garden waste.

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.

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.

Parsons, W.T., & Cuthbertson, E. G. (2001). Noxious weeds of Australia. CSIRO publishing.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retrieved 21 July 2022 from https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Asparagus~aethiopicus

Vivian-Smith G., Gosper C.R., Grimshaw T. and Armstrong T. (2006). Ecology and management of subtropical invasive asparagus (Asparagus africanus Lam. and A. aethiopicus L.). Plant Protection Quarterly 21.  46-62.

Vivian-Smith, G. E., & Gosper, C. R. (2010). Comparative seed and dispersal ecology of three exotic subtropical Asparagus species. Invasive Plant Science and Management, 3(1), 93-103.

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.

Physical removal

Hand pulling

Very small plants can be hand pulled. Ensure all of the crown is removed. Dispose of the crown and fruit.

Crowning

Crowning is a technique of digging out the entire crown that sits just below the surface of the soil. The roots and tubers 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.

Disposal

Bag and burn the crown and any fruiting stems including green fruit. Ask your local council for alternative disposal methods.

Chemical control

Cut stump (gouge and paint)

Cut the stems then gouge out a section of the crown with a knife. Apply the herbicide to the gouged crown immediately.

Spot spraying

Spot spray larger infestations, regrowth, or seedlings. Use a penetrant in coastal areas as ground asparagus forms a waxy coating. Spot spraying is most successful between flowering and berries forming. Take care to avoid off-target damage. 

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 (Starane™ Advanced)
Rate: 300 to 600 mL in 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
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 31/03/2025
Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
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/L + 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 certain dealings
Must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.

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

Reviewed 2022