Asparagus fern enchants with feathery foliage

Asparagus fern's airy, fine-textured appearance leads to its other common name, plumose (plume-like) fern.

This vigorous South African plant forms a spreading clump of wiry, upright stems; some stay a few feet tall while others grow as twining, vine-like stems that can stretch for many feet (though they can easily be pruned back). Side stems divide into large, flat, triangular fronds composed of tiny, bright-green stem sections that look like tiny pine needles.

Asparagus fern bears small star-like white flowers followed by round blue-black fruits, though indoor plants may not bloom regularly. It will grow in the ground outdoors in warm regions, but it's known to be a garden thug—or downright invasive—and is best kept as a houseplant, where its graceful form can be appreciated close up.

Common name: Asparagus fern, plumosa fern

Botanical name: Asparagus setaceus (syn. A. plumosus,)

Plant type: Evergreen perennial (grown as houseplant)

Zones: Indoors: all zones; Outdoors: Zone 9 to 12

Height: 3 to 8 feet

Family: Asparagaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Bright indirect light

• Soil: Well-drained potting mix

• Moisture: Water when soil surface is slightly dry.

Care

• Mulch: None

• Pruning: Cut back stems to reduce size as needed.

• Fertilizer: Apply diluted soluble fertilizer monthly from spring to fall.

Propagation

• Division

• Seeds

Pests and diseases

• No major problems

Garden notes

• Asparagus fern's delicate greenery is a staple for florists and is useful in homegrown bouquets, too.

• Stems of asparagus fern typically develop sharp triangular spines, so use caution when moving or pruning your plant.

• The foliage of asparagus fern is actually stem tissue, while its true leaves are reduced to almost microscopic scales on the stems.

All in the family

• Asparagus fern is a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). It's sometimes listed as a member of the lily family (Liliaceae).

• A related plant that's also called asparagus fern is Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri'. It, too, is commonly grown as a houseplant.

• Other houseplants in the asparagus family include spider plant, aspidistra and dracaenas.

Where to buy

• Glasshouse Works, glasshouseworks.com

• Secret Garden Rare Plants,secretgardenrareplants.com