Asparagus microraphis (Kunth) Baker
Common names: needles wild-asparagus (Eng.), katdoring (Afr.), lala-tau, lehonyeli, lelala-tau, leu-nyeli, mankoe (Sesotho)
An evergreen shrub that is used medicinally by Sesotho speaking people for the treatment of venereal diseases.
Asparagus microraphis is an evergreen, dome-shaped shrub, which grows up to 1 m tall, with spreading branches bearing numerous branchlets covered by cladode fascicles. Its rhizome is typical with sharp cataphylls and woody, cylindrical roots. The stem of Asparagus microraphis is erect, ribbed and pale grey, with thin, sharp spines of about ± 4 mm long. The leaves are arranged in small dense clusters. It produces solitary, creamy or pinkish, hanging flowers, with central green stripes. The flowers are ± 8 mm in diameter and have a pleasant smell. It usually flowers in spring to early summer, from October to December. It bears orange berry-like fruits, which are ± 7 mm in diameter.
According to the Red List of South African plants, Asparagus microraphis was not screened as potential taxa of conservation concern, and was given an automatic status of Least Concern (LC). It is, therefore, considered not to be under any immediate risk of extinction.
Distribution and habitat
Asparagus microraphis is not endemic to South Africa, it is found at the foot of cliffs and on steep, rocky slopes, up to 2 400 m in altitude in the Western and Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, and in Lesotho.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Asparagus is the largest genus in Asparagaceae. The name Asparagus is derived from the Greek words, Asparagos, for the cultivated asparagus, and is possibly derived from a, meaning ‘intensive’, and sparassa, ‘to tear’, referring to the sharp spines of many species. The specific epithet, microraphis, is derived from the Greek words, micro, meaning ‘small’ and rhaphis, which means ‘a needle’, therefore, ‘small needles’.
Asparagus microraphis is generally browsed by animals, and the seeds are dispersed by birds, which are attracted to the orange berries.
Asparagus microraphis is used in traditional initiation of girls and also as a treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in Lesotho. The traditional healers store air-dried material (leaves, roots and stems) indoors for up to 5 years, before use. They crush the roots and mix them with water to make a decoction.
Growing Asparagus microraphis
Asparagus microraphis can make a great container plant, and it is also suitable for growing in gardens, well suited to rockeries and small gardens. It produces many seeds that readily geminate and an underground stem that makes it spread quickly. It can also be grown from seeds. Cover the seeds lightly with sifted bark, and water well. Keep in a protected area in light shade, watering when required; do not allow the soil to dry out completely. Asparagus microraphis, like any other asparagus, is considerably drought tolerant once established, but looks the best when watered regularly.
- Glen, H. 2004. Sappi what’s in a name?. Jacana Media (PTY) Ltd. Johannesburg. 13, 53, 68.
- Obermeyer, A.A. & Immelman, K.L, 1992. Flora of southern Africa, Volume 5, Part 3: 59, 60. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers, a field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Raimondo, D. et al. 2009. Red list of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute), Pretoria.
- Shale, T.L. et al. 2004. Effect of storage on antibacterial and COX-1 anti-inflammatory activity of three plants used as traditional medicines in Lesotho. South African Journal of Botany 70(4): 602–610
- Tshiila, A. 2015-02. Asparagus virgatus Baker (Asparagaceae). Internet 3pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/asparagus-virgatus (accessed July 2016)
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring
Flower colour: Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy