How to grow foxtail ferns?

Foxtail Asparagus Ferns – Information On The Care Of Foxtail Fern

Foxtail asparagus ferns are unusual and attractive evergreen flowering plants and have many uses in the landscape and beyond. Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ is related to the asparagus fern ‘Sprengeri’ and is actually a member of the lily family. Let’s find out how to take care of a foxtail fern in the garden.

About Foxtail Ferns

Foxtail ferns are not really ferns, as they’re multiplied from seeds and produce no spores. The common name likely came from the clumping habit of the plant that is similar to that of a fern.

Foxtail asparagus ferns have an unusual, symmetrical look. These fern-like plants have arching plumes of tightly packed, needle-like leaves that look soft and delicate. Foxtail fern plants bloom with white flowers and produce red berries. The plants appear fragile and may cause gardeners to shy away from them, expecting difficult and extensive care of foxtail fern.

Don’t let the appearance deceive you, however. In reality, foxtail ferns are tough and hardy specimens, flourishing with limited care. Foxtail fern plants are drought resistant once established. Learning how to take care of a foxtail fern

is far from difficult.

How to Take Care of a Foxtail Fern

Plant the outdoor foxtail fern in a lightly shaded area, particularly avoiding hot afternoon sun in the hottest zones. The potted specimen outside can take gentle morning sun with light shade for the rest of the day. Indoors, locate the foxtail in bright light and even direct morning sun in winter. Provide humidity to plants growing indoors.

Foxtail fern plants benefit from regular water during drought and seasonal fertilization. These plants demonstrate their need for fertilization when the needle-like leaves turn pale or yellow. Feed this plant in spring with a time released food or monthly during the growing season with a balanced 10-10-10 plant food at half strength. Keep the soil lightly moist.

Allow the top 3 inches of soil to dry out between waterings. The foxtail, also called ponytail fern or emerald fern, benefits from immersion for thorough watering.

Prune back yellowing stems on the plant as needed for a tidy appearance and to encourage new growth.

The ripe red berries on foxtail ferns after flowering contain seeds to propagate for more of the lovely plants. You can also divide foxtail fern plants in spring, making sure the tuberous root system is entirely covered with a well draining soil. Tubers may grow through the top of the soil on plants that are overcrowded in the pot.

Uses for Foxtail Fern Plants

Take advantage of this attractive plant for many of your gardening needs. Bottlebrush-like plumes of foxtail fern plants are versatile; useful in the perennial border alongside other flowering plants, in outdoor containers and as houseplants for winter months.

Foxtail ferns have a moderate salt tolerance, so include them in your seaside plantings when a finely textured plant is desired in USDA Zones 9-11. In colder zones, grow the plant as an annual or in a container to bring inside for the winter.

Foxtail plumes are also useful as greenery in cut flower arrangements, lasting for two to three weeks before the foliage yellows.

Foxtail Fern botanically known as Asparagus densiflorus (a-SPARE-uh-gus den-see-FLOR-us) is a native of the Cape of Good Hope area in South Africa.

This herbaceous perennial is in the genus Asparagus and a member of the lily family – Liliaceae.

The species name densiflorus, refers to the tiny white flowers which grow densely along the stem of the plant. It may also refer to the plants’ dense foliage.

Common names include:

  • Sprenger’s asparagus fern
  • Asparagus fern plant
  • Asparagus meyeri
  • Fox Tail Fern
  • Emerald Fern

Asparagus Foxtail Fern Care

A. densiflorus is an ornamental plant and not an edible asparagus.

Size & Growth

Foxtail fern can attain a height of 2′ to 3′ feet and a spread of 3′ to 4′ feet.

Evergreen needle-like leaves on attractive arching stems and fern-like, but this plant is not actually a true fern.

When kept in deep shade, the foliage is very pale green. In partial shade, it is a dark green.

Full sun is not recommended as it leads to foxtail fern turning yellow. Asparagus fern has tiny thorns that are not problematic.

Flowering & Fragrance

Foxtail fern is a seasonal bloomer which produces very small white flowers that transition into bright red berries.

The flowers are small and insignificant, but quite fragrant. The foxtail blooms from late in the spring to early in the summer.

Following this, the flowers become small, attractive, bright red berries which ripen in the autumn.

Light & Temperature

Foxtail plant does best in partial shade with bright indirect light.

Fox tail plant is tolerant of cold temperatures down to 25° degrees Fahrenheit.

It may die back at this low temperature, but the tuberous root system will remain alive below the soil.

Lower temperatures will kill the plant entirely.

Watering & Feeding

Fox tail plants are somewhat drought tolerant.

During the growing season, water plants regularly and reduce the watering schedule somewhat as an indoor plant for the winter.

It does not go through a dormancy, but it does rest during the cooler months of the year.

Soil & Transplanting

Soil should be well draining and consistently moist for best results.

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Grooming & Maintenance

Foxtail ferns are an easy-care, attractive house plant.

It can spread and ramble quite a bit and should needs pruning or pinching back to help maintain its growth and shape.

You can also promote complete regeneration by cutting the plant back to the ground and giving it the opportunity to start over again.

How To Propagate The Foxtail Asparagus

Asparagus densiflorus myers can be propagated by seed or by division.

Gather berries from mature plants in autumn. Split them open and you will find a few black seeds inside.

Scar these with a nail file and soak them in warm water for several hours. Sow the seeds in a pot of moistened soil and cover lightly with plastic wrap.

Place the container in a warm area (75°-85° degrees Fahrenheit) in bright, indirect light.

Keep the soil moist until the seeds begin to sprout, then remove the plastic.

To propagate by division, simply cut the roots ball when repotting the plant.

Pests or Diseases Of Foxtail Densiflorus

Generally speaking, foxtail fern is not subject to any serious disease or insect problems.

In damp settings outdoors, you may have problems with aphids, mealybugs, mites and slugs.

Dampness may also cause leaf spot and leaf rot.

Are Foxtail Plants Toxic or Poisonous?

This plant is a true member of the asparagus family, but it is not an edible plant.

Asparagus fern is mildly poisonous in that the sap can cause skin irritation.

Additionally, berries can cause gastrointestinal distress if eaten.

Adverse reactions to the sap and berries are typically mild, but it is best to wear gloves when handling this plant and wash up afterwards.

Naturally, since this is not an edible plant, you should not eat the berries.

Is The Plant Considered Invasive?

Outdoors, birds will eat the seeds and spread them randomly. Seeds are safe for birds to eat.

In USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, this heat-loving, salt tolerant plant will quickly naturalize.

For this reason, the plant is considered somewhat invasive in tropical and subtropical areas such as Hawaii and Florida.

Uses For Foxtail Asparagus Ferns

In USDA zones 9 – 11, it does well as a naturalized garden plant or as a border plant.

It also makes an interesting groundcover and potted specimen. The picture below is of the Asparagus sprengeri fern planted in a larger planter.

Follow the link to learn more about Asparagus sprengeri care.

In all other hardiness zones, it makes an excellent houseplant even in a bathroom. It can be kept outdoors during the growing season (spring through fall) and brought in for the winter.

The plant does not require high humidity, so it does well in a heated indoor setting in the wintertime.

As a container plant, the Foxtail fern makes a nice potted plant, and the Emerald fern is excellent for hanging baskets or to be placed as a specimen plant on a pedestal.

The stems make a nice backdrop to floral arrangements.

source: 1 | 2

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ (Foxtail Fern) – An evergreen perennial to 2 feet tall by about 4 feet wide with light green needle-like leaves that clothe upright plum-like stems likened to spears or “rabbit ears”. These spear-like stems arise from white fleshy tubers just below the soil surface and can reach upwards to 2 to 3 feet long and radiate outwards from the center of the plant to give an overall appearance of a fluffy mound. Tiny white flowers appear tight inside the leaves in mid-summer followed by green berries that ripen decoratively to red by fall. Many Asparagus species are thorny and while this species does have thorns, they are small and hardly noticeable. Plant in full coastal sun to light shade in about any type of soil with moderate to only occasional irrigation – though lush looking, this is a pretty drought tolerant plant and it is hardy to 20° F so useful in USDA zones 9-10. A fun and attractive plant in the garden – great for mass plantings or container planting and can even be grown as a house plant though it has been included in poisonous plant lists because the berries are considered to be mildly toxic and the sap can cause short duration dermatitis. It is native to southern Africa where it grows in coastal areas in the southeastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and further to north in Mozambique. The name for the genus originates from the original Greek word ‘asparagos’ that was given to the cultivated asparagus. The specific epithet ‘densiflorus’ refers to the way the small flowers are densely packed along the stem. The cultivars ‘Myers’ and ‘Spengeri’ both were considered to be of this species but more recently have been separated with ‘Spengeri’ now listed as a cultivar of A. aethiopicus. For this reason when this plant was first introduced it was called Asparagus sprengeri ‘Compacta’, A. ‘Sprengeri Compacta’ or A. sarmentosus ‘Compacta’. It has been in cultivation in the US since the early 1900’s and is also sometimes listed as Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’, Meyers, or ‘Meyersii’. The spelling ‘Myers’ is listed in Cornell University’s Hortus Third and in their 1979 Annotated Checklist of Woody Ornamental Plants the authors, Dr. Elizabeth McClintock (UC Berkeley Dept of Botany) and Dr. Andrew Leiser (UC Davis Dept of Botany) list Asparagus densiflora ‘Myers’ as the correct name of this plant and cross reference the cultivar names ‘Meyers’ and ‘Meyersii’ as synonyms. It was under the name ‘Myersii’ that this plant received the coveted Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. There are reports on the internet that this plant was named for USDA explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer (1875 – 1918), who traveled to Asia to collect new plant species and most famous for the introduction of the Meyer Lemon. Meyer did indeed import some Asparagus species but we have not been able to validate the link to this plant. If it was named for him, the name ‘Meyer’ or perhaps ‘Meyeri’ (since the name preceded naming conventions that would disallow using a Latinized name for a cultivar) would be correct. Other common names include Myer’s Asparagus, Cat’s Tail Asparagus, Basket Asparagus, Emerald Fern, Foxtail Fern and Asparagus fern though it is obviously not a true fern. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’.

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ Myers Asparagus Fern1

Edward F. Gilman, Ryan W. Klein, and Gail Hansen2

Introduction

‘Myers’ asparagus fern is a spreading perennial herb that has a fine texture with a stiff, upright habit. The habit is quite unlike that of the more common ‘Sprengeri’ fern. This plant grows fairly rapidly and may attain a height of about 2 feet. The true leaves of this fern are scale-like and inconspicuous. The structures that most consider to be the leaves of this plant are actually narrow, light green, leaf-like branchlets called cladophylls. The stems of the asparagus fern emerge directly from the ground and are stiffly erect and have very short branches. These stems are a bit woody and are often armed with sharp spines. The flowers are white or pale pink and occur in axillary racemes that are 1/4 inch long; they are not showy. The bright red berries of this herb, however, are quite showy.

Figure 1.

Full form—Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’: ‘Myers’ asparagus fern.

Credit:

Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

Figure 2.

Leaf—Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’: ‘Myers’ asparagus fern.

Credit:

Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’

Pronunciation: as-SPAR-uh-gus den-sif-FLOR-us

Common name(s): ‘Myers’ asparagus fern

Family: Liliaceae

Plant type: herbaceous; perennial

USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Figure 3)

Figure 3.

Shaded area represents potential planting range.

Planting month for zone 9: year-round

Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year-round

Origin: not native to North America

Invasive potential: category 1 invasive exotic

Uses: mass planting; container or above-ground planter; groundcover; border; cascading down a wall; suitable for growing indoors; accent

Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range

Description

Height: 1 to 2 feet

Spread: 2 to 4 feet

Plant habit: upright

Plant density: moderate

Growth rate: fast

Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: linear

Leaf venation: none, or difficult to see

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches

Leaf color: green

Fall color: no fall color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Flower

Flower color: white

Flower characteristic: flowers periodically throughout the year

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval

Fruit length: less than 1/2 inch

Fruit cover: fleshy

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristic: attracts birds

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems

Current year stem/twig color: not applicable

Current year stem/twig thickness: not applicable

Culture

Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun; plant grows in the shade

Soil tolerances: occasionally wet; slightly alkaline; clay; sand; acidic; loam

Drought tolerance: moderate

Soil salt tolerances: good

Plant spacing: 18 to 24 inches

Other

Roots: not applicable

Winter interest: no special winter interest

Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding

Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

The asparagus fern may be used as a specimen, border, ground cover, bedding plant, or container plant. It will not cascade over a wall like the ‘Sprengeri’ cultivar because the habit is upright, but could be used as a small, low-growing, unclipped hedge or border. It will make a nice accent plant in a small residential landscape or rock garden. In a sunny location indoors, it maintains a fairly nice plant for several years.

Grow this plant in full sun or partial shade, and plant it in well-drained soil. Keep it irrigated regularly, especially in a container.

Asparagus fern may be propagated by seeds and by division of the tubers.

Design Considerations

The asparagus fern is often called the foxtail fern because the small, needle-shaped, leaf-like branches give it a fluffy appearance similar to a fox’s tail. This upright, vase-shaped fern is perfect for containers and small-scale, special spaces in the landscape. Companion plants should have larger, smooth leaves to contrast with the tiny needle-like branches of the fern. Simple forms and dark green or smooth foliage of companion plants will highlight the delicate foliage. The light to medium green of the fern will work well with different flower colors, but deep or bright colors will show better than light pastels. Simple small- or medium-size flowers will contrast more with the tiny foliage and white, yellow, and blue flowers will complement the bright red berries.

Pests and Diseases

Other than mites, none of major concern.

Footnotes

This document is FPS-52, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Revised August 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Gail Hansen, associate professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

Myers Foxtail Fern foliage

Myers Foxtail Fern foliage

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Myers Foxtail Fern

Myers Foxtail Fern

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 30 inches

Spread: 4 feet

Sunlight:

Hardiness Zone: (annual)

Other Names: Meyeri Asparagus Fern

Description:

Feathery and soft, this variety of asparagus native to South Africa creates great visual interest when massed; flowers are short lived and are hidden behind foliage therefore not very noticeable; this variety is a robust grower great for containers

Ornamental Features

Myers Foxtail Fern is primarily grown for its highly ornamental fruit. It features an abundance of magnificent red berries in late summer. Its attractive tiny needle-like leaves remain light green in color throughout the season. The flowers are not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Myers Foxtail Fern is a dense herbaceous annual with an upright spreading habit of growth. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect.

This is a high maintenance plant that will require regular care and upkeep, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Myers Foxtail Fern is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • General Garden Use
  • Container Planting

Planting & Growing

Myers Foxtail Fern will grow to be about 30 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 4 feet. Although it’s not a true annual, this plant can be expected to behave as an annual in our climate if left outdoors over the winter, usually needing replacement the following year. As such, gardeners should take into consideration that it will perform differently than it would in its native habitat.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in rich soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

Myers Foxtail Fern is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor pots and containers. With its upright habit of growth, it is best suited for use as a ‘thriller’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination; plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

Care of Foxtail Fern

Botanical Name: Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’

Upright, emerald plumes make foxtail fern a gorgeous accent plant for container groupings or staging among tropicals.

This beautiful house plant is easy to grow and some say more decorative than its close relative, the asparagus fern. Foxtail fern is not a true fern, but a member of the lily family. It’s also in the same family as the edible asparagus vegetable.

Stems are densely covered with 1 in (2.5 cm) needle-like leaflets give this plant a delicate, feathery appearance. But don’t let its fragile appearance fool you. In its native, warm temperature forests of Africa, this plant is an aggressive grower and can be invasive. It’s not a problem, though, contained in a pot. Cut it back or divide it in spring to keep it under control.

Growing Foxtail Fern Year-Round

Prune it back. Cut back stems to keep this fern compact and bushy. Trim off old, faded fronds to make room for new growth and to keep the plant looking its best.

Repot in spring. Move to a pot only 1 size larger. Allow 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) space from the rim of the pot, because the fleshy, tuberous roots sometimes force the potting mix up as they grow.

Leaf drop is usually a symptom of too much sunlight — or, more likely — dry soil. Foxtail likes dappled sunlight. Water regularly, but take care not to overwater. The plant’s thick, tuberous roots store water and soggy soil can cause root rot. Raising the humidity can help; this plant loves to be misted.

Foxtail Fern Care Tips

Feathery plumes make Foxtail a beauty.

Origin: South Africa

Height: Up to 3 ft (90 cm) long

Light: Bright light

Water: Water thoroughly, allowing soil to dry out a little between waterings. Too much water can lead to root rot. Water sparingly in winter, but do not allow soil to dry out completely, which can cause it to shed its leaflets. Remember to use tepid water to water your house plants.

Humidity: Prefers moist air. Set pot on a tray of wet pebbles and mist leaves with room-temperature water.

Temperature: Average room temperatures 60-75°F/16-24°C

Soil: Any good potting mix

Fertilizer: Feed monthly spring through fall with a balanced house plant fertilizer diluted by half.

Propagation: Division. Divide overcrowded plants in spring. Remove the plant from its pot and cut through the thick roots with a sharp knife to avoid pulling and tearing them.

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Oh the shape – this delightful fern loves to spread & twist!

Soil

They are said to grow best in slightly acidic soil. However, the soil in my back yard is not on the acidic side & my Myers Fern is doing just fine. Plants can be that way, sometimes they stretch the limits. Fertilizer I’d skip the fertilizer & just use a nice, rich organic compost. Size Mine is now 3′ x 4′ tall so be sure to give it room to grow. The root system is not for the faint of heart, & you can read about it in “propagation” below.

Pruning

My Felcos aren’t well acquainted with this plant because it rarely needs pruning, maybe once a year. As it’s grown I’ve had to trim a few fronds (stems) off the walkway but that’s about it. The Myers Fern grows so densely that the older growth will sometimes crowd out & smother the younger growth which eventually turns brown. I leave it because it’s so insignificant – I have so many plants growing year round that I can’t be that picky in the garden!

Propagation

You can propagate this fern from seed which comes from the red berries it produces but division is by far the easiest way to do it. I had planted 1 in a mixed container planting for a client & noticed after a few years that the Impatiens I planted that season weren’t doing well at all. It turns out that the Myers fern’s extensive root system, with all it’s tubers attached, had completely taken over the pot & was actually wrapping around itself. The fern looked fine but the Impatiens with their finer, much less competitive roots were loosing the battle.

What I did will give you an idea as to how tough this plant is. I wanted to save my client’s pot so it was a bit of a struggle to get the fern out. Even after I completely pried it away from the sides, the bottom wasn’t budging at all. I finally got it out & ended up sawing it into thirds. My client now has 3 Myers Ferns growing in her garden which were all doing fine & growing like crazy last time I saw them. Those tuberous roots are stubborn but boy are they resilient!

Foxtail Fern

Feathery and soft, this variety of asparagus native to South Africa creates great visual interest when massed; flowers are short lived and are hidden behind foliage therefore not very noticeable; this variety is a robust grower great for containers.

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Characteristics

Species: meyeri

Other Species Names: Myers Foxtail Fern; Cat’s Tail

Plant Height: 30 in.

Spread: 48 in.

Evergreen: No

Plant Form: upright spreading

Summer Foliage Color: light green

Minimum Sunlight: partial shade

Maximum Sunlight: full sun

Ornamental Features

Foxtail Fern is primarily grown for its highly ornamental fruit. It features an abundance of magnificent red berries from mid to late summer. Its attractive tiny needle-like leaves remain light green in color throughout the season. The flowers are not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Foxtail Fern is a dense herbaceous perennial with an upright spreading habit of growth. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect. This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It has no significant negative characteristics. Foxtail Fern is recommended for the following landscape applications; Accent Mass Planting General Garden Use Container Planting

Planting & Growing

Foxtail Fern will grow to be about 30 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 4 feet. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 15 years. This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in rich soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This species is not originally from North America. Foxtail Fern is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor pots and containers. With its upright habit of growth, it is best suited for use as a ‘thriller’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination; plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

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