Asparagus, a genus of perennial plants, of the natural order liliaceae and the suborder asparagem, and differing only in the fruit from the asphodeleae. The genus is distinguished by tuberous root stocks, branching stems, thread-like leaves, jointed pedicels, a 6-parted perianth, small greenish-yellow or white flowers, and a spherical berry. It embraces 26 species, many of which become hardy shrubs, and climb with their spiny branches as if by tendrils. A few of them are common in the East Indies and around the Mediterranean; most of them are rare and of little importance, and none are natives of America. Of the wild species, the most widely spread are the A. acutifo-liussuid albus, the needle-leaved and the white, the former of which is common in France, Spain, Barbary, and the Levant; the latter is found in the same countries, France excepted, and is remarkable for its white flexuous boughs and green caducous leaves; the young shoots of both are eaten by the Arabs and Moors. The best known member of the genus is A. officinalis, the common or garden asparagus, esteemed as a delicate culinary herb from the time of the ancient Greeks. It is thought to be native both on the shores of England and in rocky and sterile districts in Europe and Asia, and when it has attained its full development is an elegant plant, from 3 to 4 feet high, with numerous branches loaded with fine and delicate leaves, and covered with small, greenish-yellow, bell-shaped, and almost solitary flowers.
The young and tender shoots of the plant, cut when but a few inches from the ground, before ramification, are served for the table. It loves a dry, deep, and powerfully manured soil, and is raised from seeds either planted in seed beds in the spring and transplanted the next year, or planted at first where they are to remain. During the first two years the young heads should not be cut; half of them may be cut in the third, and after that the full crop. The supply will begin to diminish after 10 or 12 years. The beds for asparagus are usually about 4 feet broad, and should be manured and trenched at least 2 1/2- feet deep. The plants are in rows about a foot apart, and are thinned out till they stand about 6 inches from each other in the row, and in growing a cluster of heads branch from each root. The crop may be reaped as often as it appears, being cut from a little below the surface of the ground; yet the plant degenerates by being cut late in the season. The bed should be annually, in the autumn, replenished with manure, dug in between the rows as deeply as possible without injuring the roots, and covered with pulverized manure, seaweed, or other litter during the winter, as a protection from the frost.
Asparagus is easily forced by the use of hotbeds, but the process of transplanting always injures or destroys the roots; and if, instead of transplanting, the bed be covered and the trenches filled with hot dung, which mode is sufficient to forward the crop one or two weeks, care must be taken to give the plants time to rest and recover in the later part of the season.
Common Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). Root. Fruit, Flower, Shoot, and Mature Sprig.