Asparagus plumosus is an evergreen perennial plant from southern Africa that belongs to the Asparagaceae family. But even though it is known as the plumosa or asparagus fern, it isn’t a fern at all. A true fern belongs to the Polypodiopsida family.
Caring for plumosa ferns is easier than true fern care. It thrives outdoors in the garden in subtropical conditions, but does equally well in a pot or hanging basket indoors. If you water your plumosa fern regularly and feed it from time to time, it will be happy and so will you.
What is Plumosa Fern?
The plumosa fern is one of the best-known asparagus ferns in the world, but it isn’t the only one. We’ll talk about some of the others in the next section.
As mentioned above though, the plumosa fern isn’t a fern. So, how can you tell the difference?
One major difference between an asparagus fern and a true fern is that the true fern produces spores and not flowers and berries for reproduction. Plumosa and other asparagus ferns produce tiny white flowers and berries that birds love.
While it will climb if you provide it with support, the plumosa fern works beautifully in hanging baskets. It will also scramble if you grow it outside where it can develop into a stunning ground cover.
Its feathery stems are short and flat and are often used with bunches of cut flowers instead of more usual green foliage.
Other common names for Asparagus plumosus include common asparagus fern, feathered asparagus fern, ferny asparagus, and lace fen. Of all the asparagus plants, it looks the most like a fern.
An Invasive Species
While native to southern Africa, it is now found in sub-tropical regions throughout the world. In some areas, including Hawaii, Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, and many Pacific islands, it is an invasive species.
In Florida, which has the perfect climate for plumosa ferns, it has “escaped” and is now found in many natural areas. Because the birds love their bright, red berries, it continues to spread far and wild.
According to the European Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), the Plumosa fern, which is also known as Asparagus setaceous, is ranked as one of the 100 most invasive weeds in Queensland, Australia. In this part of the world, it is a huge threat to natural forests.
The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension describes it as fast-growing and one of the least demanding indoor plants ever. They also explain that it is only called a fern because it has “plumes of feathery foliage” that look like delicate, lacy ferns.
Types of Asparagus Fern
As mentioned above, Asparagus setaceus aka plumosus isn’t the only type of asparagus fern.
Many asparagus ferns have large and/or sharp spines. Those that don’t are a lot more popular both for gardens and as indoor plants, including those mentioned below.
Asparagus densiflorus is a hugely popular plant that can be grown in USDA zones 9 and 10. It is often used as a groundcover and as a container plant both inside and outside. It’s slightly woody and, while it does have spines, they are very small.
The best-known Asparagus densiflorus plants are identified as Sprengeri, which has been cultivated in South Africa from the late 19th century, as early as 1888. Today they grow all over the world.
Like Asparagus plumosus, Asparagus densiflorus Sprengeri produces bright red berries that birds love.
Asparagus densiflorus Meyersii or Myers forms more upright plants that look very different from Sprengeri. Common nicknames include foxtail fern and cat’s tail asparagus.
Other types of Asparagus densiflorus include Flagstaff and Mazeppa, which are also great groundcover plants.
Asparagus retrofractus attracts birds, butterflies, and bees. The roots are used in traditional medicine in parts of southern Africa mainly to treat aches and pains, gout, and colds.
Because its stems grow in a zigzag manner, it is often called the zigzag asparagus. Other common names include ming fern bush, ming asparagus, and pom-pom asparagus.
This asparagus fern grows up to 10 feet high.
Asparagus scandes is not quite as tall as Asparagus retrofractus, reaching a maximum height of abohttp://pza.sanbi.org/asparagus-scandensut 6½ feet. It grows quite differently from densiflorus and retrofractus plants, scrambling and climbing.
It is commonly known as the climbing asparagus plant.
Asparagus Ramosissimus is one of the best asparagus ferns for hanging baskets. It has very weak stems and so cascades as it scrambles or climbs.
Ramosissimus is also smaller than densiflorus, retrofractus, and scandes ferns reaching a height of only about 3-3½ feet.
The plant thrives in moist, shady places outdoors and, like plumosa ferns, prefers indirect light.
Plumosa Fern Care and Nurturing
Caring for plumosa ferns is relatively simple.
While plumosa ferns will tolerate direct sunlight for a short while every day, they do best in a location where there is indirect light. Ideally, ensure that they get partial shade although the temperature should be between 65 and 70℉ (18-24℃.)
If your plants don’t get enough light, the foliage will start to turn yellow. They won’t rejuvenate, but when the plant is in a suitable environment you will begin to see new growth at the base of the plant.
Plumosa ferns do best in nutrient-rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Aim for a pH of more than 6.0.
Here’s quite a good recipe for a home mix that will result in well-draining soil:
- potting soil
- peat moss
It needs high organic matter, so you can also add compost to the mix to improve soil conditions.
Keep the soil moist but not wet. Once they are established, a good rule of thumb is to water 2-3 days a week.
They like a humid environment, so misting them every day or two is a good idea.
If your plumosa ferns are growing in soil that contains lots of organic matter, you shouldn’t have to use much, if any fertilizer. If you do fertilize, only do so in the growing season from early spring.
Use a good quality liquid fertilizer, diluting by 50%.
You can trim plumosa ferns to develop shape and limit their size. But many people prefer to cut the stems back to soil level rather than just trimming them. They are fast-growing plants and will grow back quite quickly.
Also bear in mind that these plants produce large, tuberous roots that cause them to become pot bound. Make sure you leave enough space for the root ball to continue to grow when you repot your plumosa ferns.
When you repot, you can put them into larger containers or opt for root division so that you end up with more plants.
Pests and Diseases
Like all types of asparagus plants, Plumosa is prone to spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Wipe off gently with soapy water or neem oil.
They are also susceptible to crown and root rot, which is why it’s important not to over-water.
How big do plumosa ferns get?
Plumosa ferns are scrambling plants that are a bit shorter than other asparagus ferns. They grow to a height of anything from 1-5 feet and will spread 2-3 feet.
Of course, pruning or trimming the plants will prevent them from growing to their full potential size.
Are plumosa ferns toxic?
Even though birds love plumosa berries, they are toxic to animals. Common symptoms that result when animals eat the berries include vomiting, diarrhea, and obvious abdominal pain.
The rest of the plant is not toxic.
The plumosa fern isn’t a fern at all, but it looks like one and is easier to care for than a true fern. All it needs is good quality soil with lots of organic matter, water, and humidity.