Plant Species

ASPARAGUS OFFICINALIS – GARDEN VARIETY

Scientific binomial name, synonyms, meanings and origins: (often the latin name has a unique origin or meaning that reflects its discovery, characteristics, or origin)

  • Genus: Asparagus
  • Species: Officinalis
  • Family: Asparagaceae
  • The name “Asparagus” originates from ancient Persia and Egypt, where it was termed “asparag.” Following asparag, the ancient Greeks called it “aspharagos.” Today, it is popular in many countries and has a variety of names, including asperge (French); spargel (German); oranda-kiji-kakushi (Japanese); mang tay, or “European bamboo shoots” (Vietnamese); espargo (Portuguese); and esparrago (Spanish).

Common names and their origins: (common names are often regional and have a context that often tells a fun story)

  • Common Name: Asparagus
  • Pronunciations of Asparagus have varied and evolved over the years. In the 18th century the Oxford Dictionary termed it “Sparrow grass,” and regionally in the United States it is known as “Asper grass” in parts of Texas and “Spar grass” in parts of the mid-west and Appalachia.
  • In the English speaking world, two types of Asparagus are distinguished: Garden asparagus and wild asparagus. There are many varieties of garden asparagus. ““Mary Washington” is the most commonly found variety. It was bred for rust resistance.
  • “Jersey Giant” is rust and fusarium wilt resistant and yields early. “Brock Imperial” offers high yields. “Princeville” does well in warmer climates.”(About.com)

Origin and distribution of the species: where it is native to and where has it spread in the wild, where is it cultivated now.

  • This plant is native to most of Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia; it has proliferated throughout the Northern hemisphere. It is now also grown in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, Mexico, Ethiopia, and Puerto Rico. Wild asparagus can be found growing in disturbed wild areas, prairies, meadows and land previously cultivated but now abandoned. Wild asparagus can even be found growing on the side of a road or highway.

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Description of form:

  • Asparagus is a large herbaceous perennial vegetable, generally growing 3-6 feet tall, with edible shoots harvested between 6-12 inches in length; asparagus roots run and grow in clumps 12-36 inches in diameter. Asparagus grows at a medium rate, usually taking 1-2 years to establish its roots before shoots can be harvested for eating. This plant lives a long time, with a productive life cycle of 1-3 decades. It is usually dioecious, with separate male and female plants, but sometimes hermaphrodite flowers are found. Asparagus flowers between April and June and produces a fruit; the fruit is a small red berry 6–10 mm diameter, which is poisonous to humans.

Detail the Multiple Uses of the plant: including products and functions/effects (timber, food, fiber, pollen, …)

  • Asparagus is mostly cultivated for the edible use of its highly nutritious shoots; it is a highly fibrous vegetable, high in antioxidants and a good source of vitamin C. Shoots can be stir-fried with other vegetables and meats, boiled in soups, and grill-cooked, or eaten raw in salads.
  • The asparagus plant is also medicinally useful; shoots have diuretic properties affecting the urinary and digestive system; properties in the shoots are helpful in purifying blood, are anti-rheumatic, retorative and cleansing to the liver and kidneys; It is known to promote fertility, reduce menstrual cramping, increase milk production, stimulate hormone production, and can have antispasmodic effects.
  • Asparagus seeds are antibiotic, diaphoretic, aperient, deobstruent. The tuberous roots are diuretic and are helpful at counteracting cancer in the body. Other medicinal uses of Different parts of the asparagus plant have also been used as aperient, cardiac, demulcent, sedative, and tonic.
  • In Ayurvedic medicine it is considered sweet, bitter, and cold. iIt is used as a yin tonic to treat kidney yin deficiency and lower backpain.

Ecological functions/niche/symbiosis: Describe the plants habitat such as garden, forest edge, wetlands and its role within that ecosystem

  • The garden variety is usually found in gardens and no-longer used farmland. This plant is grown in beds, rows, or patches where it spreads perennially. It is a delicious and nutritious food and plays an important role in the human diet.
  • Dispersive and persistent – spreads easily
  • Very difficult to eradicate once planted

Propagation methods: Garden asparagus can be grown either from seed or crown. Seeds should be started indoors at least 3 months before the last frost. In warmer climates crowns can be planted in the fall, and in cooler climates it is best planted outside about 1 month before the last frost. Crowns can tolerate some frost because they are below ground; asparagus typically grows anywhere between zones 2-9. Crowns should be planted a hole 6-8 inches deep with compost and 1½ foot wide. After seedlings have been grown indoors, they can be planted in the same way as crowns. Crowns should be planted 12-18 inches apart. Garden asparagus will grow in a soil pH between 4.5 and 8, but is best propagated in soil that is between 6-7pH. It can grow in sandy, loamy and clayey soils, and prefers moist but well-draining soil. Garden asparagus grows best in full sun and can handle some dryness in the soil.

Sources of plant material: Asparagus crowns can be taken from your neighbor’s garden by dividing the new-growth shoots in early spring and replanted as you would crowns. They can be found in seed catalogues and crowns can be purchased from nurseries such “Raintree Nursery.”

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