Ming Asparagus

Asparagus retrofractus

Ming asparagus is a shrubby plant usually growing 1-2 m tall, but occasionally reaching up to 3 m in height and originates from southern Africa. This garden ornamental has recently become established in bushland in southeastern Queensland, and has the potential to become a serious environmental weed like several of the other weedy asparagus species.

Common names 
Also known as: pom pom asparagus, zig zag asparagus,
Flowering time 
Late Spring to early Summer
Southern Africa
State declaration 
Council declaration 
NIL - Reduce
Known distribution 

Ming asparagus fern has been recorded from the Moreton and Wide Bay districts in southeastern Queensland. The first herbarium record was from the understorey of a disturbed sheoakeucalypt woodland on Coochiemudlo Island in 2001. Since then, it has been collected from
Greenslopes and St Lucia in Brisbane, and the margins of a dry rainforest near Gympie. It has also been observed growing in bushland at Ashgrove, Rochedale, Riverhills and Mount Coot-tha in the last couple of year.


Ming asparagus fern is a potential weed of riparian vegetation, forest margins, open woodlands, urban bushland, coastal environs, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas. It is most commonly found in the understorey of drier forests.


Shrubby herbaceous evergreen perennial that typically grows 1-2m tall. 

Impact and control methods 

Asparagus weed infestations expand quickly due to the rapid growth of root systems, even under harsh conditions, and can form monocultures and displace native plants. Their root systems can form impenetrable matts that can inhibit the establishment of native seedlings.

Stem and leaves 

 The older branches are light grey or whitish in colour and bear small spines or thorns. The leaves are reduced to tiny scales, and what appear to be the leaves are actually small stem segments which function as leaves (i.e. cladodes). Large numbers of these needle-like ‘leaves’ (8.5-25 mm long and less than 1 mm wide) are produced in clusters along the stems that resemble pom-poms. They are hairless, usually slightly curved, and have pointed tips.

Flowers and fruits 

The small white or cream flowers are arranged in dense clusters and are produced in large numbers for a short period in summer. Each flower is about 5 mm across and is borne on a stalk 6.5-9 mm long. They have six petals and six stamens, usually with white filaments and yellow anthers. The rounded berries (6-10 mm across) are initially green in colour, but turn black as they mature.

Reproduction and dispersal 

This species reproduces by seed, which are mainly spread by birds and other animals that eat the fruit. Plants eventually form large clumps, and may re-grow from underground rootstocks when damaged. Rootstocks and seeds may also be spread in dumped garden waste.

Similar species 

Some of the other asparagus ferns, such as Ground asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus ‘Sprengeri’) and Sicklethorn (Asparagus falcatus) may be confused with Ming asparagus fern. However, Ground asparagus fern has spreading or scrambling stems and its fruit turn red when mature. Sicklethorn may be shrubby in habit, but its leaves are quite large and flattened (3-7 cm long and 2-5 mm wide).