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Asparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Jessop 1966
pronounced: as-PAH-uh-guss den-see-FLOOR-uss
(Asparagaceae – the asparagus family)
common names: Foxtail Fern, Cat’s Tail Fern, Asparagus Fern, Basket Asparagus
Ασφαραγος (aspharagos) was the ancient Greek name for the plant Asparagus officinalis, the asparagus we eat , a relative of this plant; densiflorus is from two Latin words, densus, thick, dense, and floreo, to bloom, flower.
The Foxtail Fern is a native of South Africa. It is not, of course, a fern, as it produces seeds, and not spores. It is an evergreen arching perennial with feathery, needle-like stems. It is very similar to Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus), except that its growth habit is very dense and it produces tail-like fronds for a fluffy ‘foxtail’ appearance. Members of this genus have no functional leaves: the little green things on the stems are cladodes, flattened stems. The fronds on the fern feel prickly, making gloves useful when working with the plant. The fronds make great cut material for floral arrangements.
In the summer the plant bears inconspicuous small waxy white flowers, attractive to honey bees. Normally the flowers are scattered sparsely along the stems, but occasionally a beautiful crowded flower spike is produced. The flowers are short-lived, and are followed by bright red berries. These berries are toxic to humans, causing stomach upsets, but birds eat them. The plant can grow to 60 cm high and to a spread of about a metre. It looks well not only in the garden, but also in a pot or in a hanging basket. It is hardy and drought-resistant, and prefers part to full sun. It will tolerate low light (and will even exist satisfactorily as a house plant), but growth will be diminished. If grown indoors, it is one of those useful plants that removed formaldehyde from the atmosphere.
If grown in a garden bed it does have the potential to be invasive, like the Asparagus Fern. It does not appear to be vulnerable to pests, and it needs no trimming or pruning. It is propagated by division (but do not divide it into too-small portions) or by seed.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay, 2012 - 2014
Page last updated 9th October 2016