Asparagus densiflorus: Foxtail fern

Family: Asparagaceae
Common name: Foxtail fern, Asparagus fern, Plume asparagus

Foxtail ferns are beautiful garden plants, with elegant fronds that are used in flower arrangements. They grow to a height of 3-4 feet and spreads over a large area through underground rhizomes.

They are evergreen perennial plants capable of living and reproducing over a long period of time. Though these plants are called Foxtail ferns, they are technically not ferns but belong to the Asparagus family along with Asparagus racemosus and Asparagus officinalis.

They are a native of South Africa but is now grown in gardens all over the world as ornamental plants. They have also escaped from cultivation and is considered invasive weeds in some countries because their dense mats of fronds can choke native vegetation.

They grow and flourish in warm tropical weather with good humidity. Foxtail ferns have strong, green stems that are slightly woody towards the base. The stem grows in trailing branches with dark green cladodes or modified stems, which are 2-3 centimeters long and grows in bunches of 4-8.

Actual leaves are tiny scale-like growths at the base of the cladodes. The stem is also covered with sharp thorns along the axils, the angle between the leaves and stem, making it difficult to handle the fronds with bare hands.

Flowers are white or light-pink, lightly fragrant, and bloom in bunches all over the plant during spring. These flowers then form small rounded green fruits, which later turn red and deep red before they fall off.

These fruits contain one seed that’s about 3mm in diameter. Birds that consume these fruits help in dispersal. But these seeds and plant parts are mildly poisonous to humans and pets, causing symptoms like stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Foxtail ferns grow well in bright, direct sunlight and well-drained soil. They need regular watering but very little fertilization. They can be grown as indoor plants provided they are kept near sunny windows. Overwatering or underwatering results in the yellowing and falling of leaves resulting in tall, lanky stems.

There are many variants of Foxtail ferns, the three major ones being ‘Splengeri’ with arching fronds having needle-like leaves, ‘Cwebe’ with arching stems and copper-colored new leaves, and ‘Myersii’ having long foxtail like fronds that look beautiful when grown as garden centerpieces, as border plants or in hanging baskets.

The beautiful plants grow quickly filling the pot or growing area. They can then be repotted or divided at the roots to form new plants. Foxtail ferns also produce small suckers from the underground rhizomes.

Propagation is through seeds, stem cuttings, and root division.

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