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Asparagus retrofractus L.
Family Asparagaceae
Common name: Zigzag Asparagus, Ming Asparagus

Asparagus retrofractus L. APNI*

Description: A subshrub with erect to scrambling perennial stems 1–3 m long; stems greyish, with ciliate ribbing when young, zigzagged and with contracted reflexed branchlets; older stems with small recurved spines; with central underground crown, roots fibrous.

Leaves scale-like. Cladodes numerous in clusters, filiform, slightly curved, 8–25 mm long, less than 1 mm wide, glabrous.

Flowers in more or less dense clusters; pedicels 6–9(-40) mm long, articulated in lower half; tepals c. 3 mm long, white.

Berry ± globose, c. 1 mm diam., orange-reddish.

Distribution and occurrence: Possibly naturalised in eastern Australia but all material seen to date is actually A. macowanii (q.v.). Native to southern Africa.
NSW subdivisions: ?NC
Other Australian states: *Qld
AVH map***

This species has been confused here and overseas with A. macowanii, which has cladodes in dense, more ball-like clusters and lacks zigzag, ribbed stems. That species is cultivated in Australia and is now naturalised but its extent is not clear because of confusion with A. retrofractus. 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 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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