The asparagus fern (Protasparagus densiflorus) has a misleading name, as it actually belongs to the Lily family of plants. The asparagus fern is a relative to flowers such as tulips and ground cover species like the hosta, but takes its name from its fern-like appearance. The asparagus fern is used as a houseplant and can grow outside as well. The plant can escape cultivation, as it did in parts of Florida where it is an invasive species.
The arching stems of an asparagus fern vary between 2 and 6 feet in length. The stems have a feathery appearance, but what appears to be leaves are actually small branchlets known as cladodes, according to the Plant of the Week website. The asparagus fern is evergreen and the branches can grow upright or trail along the ground, growing onto and over other plants and objects. The plant can grow to 6 feet high and spread out over an area of from 3 to 4 feet. In the summer months, the asparagus fern develops 1/2-inch wide white blooms that turn into red berries by fall.
You can take the tuberous roots of the asparagus fern, divide them and then plant them. You may also plant the seeds of this species. Place an asparagus fern in the sun, but realize that direct sun all the time is not the best for the plant. Deep shade also hurts the asparagus fern, turning it yellow, so a location where the plant gets mostly sun but some shade will allow it to flourish. Asparagus fern is quite tolerant of drought conditions, but keep it watered during the growing season. Frost will kill it to the ground, but the plant will grow back.
Two cultivars of asparagus fern are popular ornamentals. One is foxtail fern, with stiff 2-foot long leaves and a fluffy look to it. The emerald fern has branches that arch and then droop downward, with lengths up to 4 feet. The flowers on this hybrid are aromatic. Other asparagus fern cultivars include Sprengeri Deflexus, which features wide stems, and the dwarf plant known as Sprengeri Nanus.
In Florida, the asparagus fern grows in the wild now in Polk, Lee and Hillsborough County, notes the University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants website. Birds flying away with the seeds and eating them, as well as the wind, help to spread the seeds into the countryside, allowing this species to take hold. Asparagus fern will grow on roadsides and make its way into woodlands, where it establishes colonies. The plant has the ability to block the sunlight from reaching native species and climb on shrubs and trees, smothering them.
You may plant the asparagus fern in locations such as along walkways, under shade trees and in places where you simply want something to grow to cover bare patches. The plant will grow up and spread out to give these places a fuller look. The fact that it is easy to grow and maintain makes it a good houseplant for beginners, and you can use it in hanging baskets or in containers around your home. The foliage also works well in floral arrangements.