The two popular Asparagus ferns (A. plumosus and A. densiflorus sprengeri) are grown for their graceful feathery foliage, which is often used in flower arrangements. But all is not what it seems – they are not ferns, and the ‘leaves’ are really needle-like branches.
Asparagus fern is an easy plant to grow, much easier than most true ferns, because it will adapt to wide variations in light, heat and frequency of watering. It does not demand a humid atmosphere and can be easily propagated. For maximum effect make sure that the arching or trailing branches are not impeded by other plants – a hanging basket is the ideal home for Asparagus.
The flat-leaved variety called Smilax by florists is A. asparagoides. It is more difficult to grow indoors than the ferny varieties, but it is sometimes recommended for hanging displays.
The Asparagus species which have become popular as house plants have needle-like ‘leaves’. They have a ferny look – A. plumosus is a compact plant with graceful, spreading branches when young but the thin stems become straggly with age. Berries sometimes appear and the smallest type is A. plumosus nanus.
A.densiflorus sprengeri has trailing stems with bright green ‘leaves’ and red berries. Less well known but more attractive is the Plume Asparagus – A. meyeri (Foxtail fern). The erect and stiff stems are 15-18 in. long and densely covered with needles; a green bottle-brush plant which serves as a useful contrast to large-leaved plants in pot groups.
There is nothing fern-like about A. falcatus (Sicklethorn) – the sickle-shaped ‘leaves’ are large and the 3 ft high stems are distinctly prickly. Finally there is the old fashioned Smilax – A. asparagoides. A vigorous plant with trailing stems which can reach 5 ft or more. The shiny foliage remains fresh for a long time after cutting.
Secrets of success
Temperature: Average warmth, minimum 50°F at night. Constant high temperatures can be harmful.
Light: Can adapt to bright or semi-shady conditions. Keep away from direct sunlight.
Water: Water regularly from spring to fall. Occasionally water from below. Water sparingly in winter.
Air humidity: Mist occasionally, especially in winter if room is heated.
Repotting: Repot in spring every year.
Propagation: Divide plants at any time of the year. Sow seeds in spring.
Asparagus plumosus (setaceus)