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Asparagus macowanii Baker
Family Asparagaceae
Common name: Pompom Asparagus

Asparagus macowanii Baker APNI*

Synonyms: Asparagus macowanii var. zuluensis APNI*

Description: Subshrub with perennial stems erect, not climbing, 1–2.5 m tall, smooth, with short recurved spines on lower part of stems only; with central underground crown, roots fibrous or semisucculent.

Leaves scale-like. Cladodes numerous, more or less filiform, 8–15 mm long, <0.5 mm wide, clustered in each axil (often the clusters are densely packed forming globose compound clusters, especially near the ends of the branches).

Flowers in more or less dense clusters (appearing on branches before the cladodes have fully developed); pedicels c. 5 mm long; tepals flattened, oblong, c. 3 mm long.

Berry globose or laterally elongated (especially when 2 seeds develop), c. 7–10 mm diam., dark reddish purple to black at maturity; seeds 1–2 so far as known.

L. Elkan

Photo Karen L Wilson

Photo Karen L Wilson

Photo Karen L Wilson

Other photo
Photo Karen L Wilson

Distribution and occurrence: Occasionally cultivated in gardens. One potential naturalisation known at Cooranbong on Central Coast but may be naturalised elsewhere on NC and CC (see below about previous confusion with A. retrofractus). Native to south-eastern Africa.
NSW subdivisions: *NC, *CC
AVH map***

Often called 'Pompom Asparagus' because of the dense globose 'clusters of clusters' of cladodes, especially near the ends of stems and branches. This species has been confused here and overseas with A. retrofractus but they are easily separated: A. macowanii has its distinctive ‘pompoms’ of densely clustered cladodes (especially at the ends of the branches; whereas there are much sparser clusters of cladodes in A. retrofractus), straight smooth stems (zigzag and ribbed as in A. retrofractus) and purplish to blackish fruits at maturity (orange-red in A. retrofractus). The habit differs: erect stems with fewer and smaller spines in the case of A. macowanii versus longer and rather scrambling stems with numerous obvious spines in A. retrofractus (C. Archer pers. comm.). The two species have often been referred to by the same common names 'Ming Asparagus' and 'Zigzag Asparagus' - showing yet again the problems with a common name being applied to more than one species. It is recommended that in future A. macowanii be called Pompom Asparagus and A. retrofractus Zigzag Asparagus to prevent further confusion.

Text by KL Wilson (Jan 2014; Oct 2014)
Taxon concept: Obermeyer & Immelman, Flora Southern Africa vol 5(3) (1992); online at

APNI* Provides a link to the Australian Plant Name Index (hosted by the Australian National Botanic Gardens) for comprehensive bibliographic data
***The AVH map option provides a detailed interactive Australia wide distribution map drawn from collections held by all major Australian herbaria participating in the Australian Virtual Herbarium project.
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