Asparagus ramosissimus Baker
Common names: cascade asparagus (Eng.); krulkransie (Afr.); ibutha (Zulu and siSwati); kgopa, sesilatsane (Sesotho)
Asparagus ramosissimus is an evergreen perennial with abundant soft, light green foliage and a cascading habit, suited to the shady garden or patio.
Asparagus ramossisimus is a soft-textured, mounding or cascading shrub, 1.0–2.2 m high. The stems are weak and scrambling or climbing, slightly zig-zagging, up to about 1 m long, with fine, feathery, light green foliage, and no spines. Asparagus plants do not possess true leaves. What appear to be small, needle-like leaves, are actually modified flattened stems called cladodes. In this species, the cladodes are flattened and linear (long and narrow in shape), 5–15 mm long, and are produced in threes. It flowers in summer; the flowers are small, 3 mm long and 8 mm wide, white, nodding with spreading tepals. They are produced singly in the axils. The flowers are followed by orange-red, spherical berries, about 10 mm in diameter.
The current conservation status of Asparagus ramossisimus is LC (Least Concern), meaning that this species is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Asparagus ramosissimus is found growing in moist, shady places, from Potberg in the Western Cape, through the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal to Limpopo and Mpumalanga; also in Swaziland and Lesotho.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Asparagus derives its name from the Greek word Asparagos, the name given to the edible cultivated asparagus. This species is named for its many branches, ramosissimus meaning ‘branching the most’ from the Latin, ramosus = ‘branched’ and ‘issimus’, being the superlative. This plant was previously known as Myrsiphyllum ramossisimum (Baker) Oberm.
The genus Asparagus consists of approximately 200 species in Africa, Asia and Europe with 88 in southern Africa. They are shrubs or scramblers and climbers with perennial or annual stems from a compact woody base. Their roots are often tuberous and edible, and their leaves are reduced to scales; they are often spiny. What look like the leaves are in fact modified stems called cladodes. The flowers are small, white and often strongly fragrant. The fruit is a berry. The best known members of this genus are: Asparagus officinalis, the asparagus that is commonly cultivated and eaten, and Asparagus plumosus, the ‘asparagus fern’, used by florists. In South Africa, the most commonly cultivated ornamental species is Asparagus densiflorus, known as asparagus fern, emerald fern or basket asparagus.
The red-orange berries are eaten, and the seeds dispersed by birds. The flowers are probably pollinated by insects.
Asparagus ramosissimus roots are sometimes eaten in KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland. This plant is used in traditional medicine in KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland to treat colic and as a protective charm against snakes. It is also used to make love charms. In Lesotho roots are used to treat stomach pain and colic, and to cure a rash caused by seeing a snake, and as a charm to make herds prosper.
Growing Asparagus ramosissimus
Asparagus plants are mostly used for their decorative foliage, although some species have attractive flowers and showy berries. This species looks good cascading over retaining walls and in rockeries, adding a leafy luxuriance to the planting. It will thrive in dappled shade, or in partial to full shade, and is suitable for shady gardens, as well as in containers and hanging baskets on shady patios and indoors. It can be mass planted as a ground cover. It prefers a moist, well-drained, loamy soil, and can tolerate cold temperatures to -7ºC. It is relatively drought resistant and can also take large amounts of water. Mites have been found to be the pests to watch out for when growing this species. Chemical sprays can be used to control the mites, but a more ecologically friendly approach can also be attempted, by introducing natural enemies, like ladybird beetles.
Asparagus ramossisimus is best propagated from seed. The thin fleshy coating of the fruit must be removed and the seeds sown fresh for best results. Sow in spring or summer, using a general well-drained, sterile sowing medium. Cover the seeds lightly and water well. Keep in a controlled environment that is warm and lightly shaded, and do not allow the soil to dry out. Prick out and pot up the seedlings when they are large enough to handle. Use a compost-enriched loamy medium. Grow the young plants on in light shade and keep well watered. Feed regularly for lush growth. Although established plants can also be propagated by division, it does not yield good results (Anthony Hitchcock 2015, pers. comm.)
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Nomama Mei and Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Scrambler
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average