Asparagus officinalis L.


Asparagus officinalis plant

Family - Liliaceae

Stems - To 2m tall, herbaceous, erect, much branched, glabrous, from rhizomes, green. Branches thin and drooping.

Leaves - Alternate and reduced to scales on main stem, glabrous. Leaves of upper branches linear, to 2.5cm long, .5mm broad, in groups of 1-5 per node, glabrous, appearing as if in fascicles like pine needles.

Inflorescence - Single or paired flowers from leaf axils. Pedicels jointed, to +1cm long, glabrous.

Flowers - Perianth segments(tepals) whitish-green, to 6.5mm long, 1.5mm broad, with subscarious margins, rounded to obtuse at apex, glabrous. Stamens 6, adnate at base of perianth segments, included. Filaments to 3mm long, glabrous. Anthers orange, 1.6mm long. Style 1.1mm long, glabrous. Stigmas 3. Ovary superior, 1.8mm long, green, 3-locular. Berries to 1cm in diameter, red, glabrous, with 3-6 seeds.

Asparagus officinalis flowers

Asparagus officinalis flowers

Flowering - May - June.

Habitat - Pastures, fencerows, old cultivated fields, disturbed sites, open woods, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to Europe.

Other info. - The flowering period is not really as important with this plant as the sprouting period. This is when you can go out and collect the young shoots to eat. Why spend $2 a pound when you can drive down the road and collect 5 or 6 pounds in less than an hour? You just have to know where to go. White asparagus, very trendy these days, are actually sprouts which have been grown under a layer of mulch so that they do not produce chlorophyll. White and green asparagus come from the same species or even the same plant.
The upper leaves of this species are not really leaves at all but are, in fact, reduced branches. The true leaves are scalelike and on the main stem. A officinalis is a dioecious plant meaning that male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are produced on different plants.

Photographs taken at the Martha LaFite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, Clay County, MO., 5-12-00.