Common Name asparagus
Moisture dry to mesic
Asparagus grows to 100–150 centimetres tall, with stout stems with much-branched feathery foliage. The root system is adventitious and the root type is fasciculated. It is usually dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants, but sometimes hermaphrodite flowers are found. The fruit is a small red berry 6–10 mm diameter, which is mildly poisonous to humans. Large quantities of the shoots can irritate the kidneys.
Young shoots are best raw or steamed. Considered a gourmet food, the shoots are harvested in the spring, as the shoot quickly turn woody. Male plants produce the best shoots. Over-harvesting the plant weakens it in the following year. The shoots are a good source of protein and dietary fibre. Roasted seeds are a coffee substitute. Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years.
Asparagus is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. It was known in ancient Syria and Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter; Romans would even freeze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus tossed off the "Asparagus Fleet" for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression "faster than cooking asparagus" for quick action.
Since asparagus often originates in maritime habitats, it thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow. A little salt was traditionally used to suppress weeds in beds intended for asparagus; this has the disadvantage that the soil cannot be used for anything else.
Asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle, as do several other common companion plants of tomatoes. Meanwhile, asparagus may repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants.