If you grow asparagus in your garden, you may see little red berries growing on some of the plants. I did some research to find out what these red berries are and why they only grow on some of the plants.
So, what are the red berries on your asparagus plants? The red berries on an asparagus plant are seed pods. Usually, these red berries grow on female asparagus plants, but male plants must also be present for the seed pods to appear. You can collect asparagus seeds from the berries, dry them out, and plant them to get more asparagus.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between male and asparagus plants, along with ways you can get more plants. Then we’ll find some answers for commonly asked questions about asparagus plants, berries, and seeds.
What Are The Red Berries On My Asparagus Plants?
According to Wikipedia, asparagus is a perennial flowering plant that can live for up to 30 years. Asparagus is a member of the lily family.
Asparagus is dioecious, which means there are separate male and female asparagus plants. On occasion, hermaphrodite (both male and female) flowers may appear on an asparagus plant.
The red berries or red balls you see on some plants are asparagus seed pods. These seed pods contain one or more asparagus seeds, which the plant uses for reproduction.
Usually, seed pods only grow on female asparagus plants after the plant goes to seed. You will need both male and female asparagus plants for these red berries to appear.
When a female asparagus plant falls over, the seeds in the red berries have a chance to germinate in the soil and grow into new plants. You can learn more about why asparagus plants fall over in my article here.
There are other ways that asparagus seeds can spread far and wide to produce new plants. For instance, according to the Penn State University Extension, birds like to eat asparagus seeds.
Male Asparagus Plants
Male asparagus plants produce small bell-shaped flowers, which are white, yellow, or green. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, they also produce more spears than female asparagus plants.
This means that if you want a bigger harvest of edible asparagus spears, you should opt for male plants. Thanks to the wonders of modern science, you can now order all-male hybrid asparagus plants (you can thank Rutgers University for that!).
These all-male hybrid varieties can produce three times more than traditional asparagus varieties. For more information, check out this article on asparagus from Mother Earth News.
In addition, these all-male hybrid varieties will not produce seeds (and thus, no red berries), according to this article on asparagus from Extension.org.
Female Asparagus Plants
Female asparagus plants also produce flowers, which look similar to those produced by male asparagus plants. Female plants are the ones that produce berries, which are bright red and 0.5 to 1.0 centimeters (a quarter to a half inch) in diameter.
If you want to grow more asparagus plants from seed, you will want to get some female plants for your garden. However, there is a trade-off to be made.
Since female asparagus plants devote some of their energy to producing seeds, they have less energy leftover for growing the edible spears.
This means that you will get fewer spears from a female asparagus plant than from a male asparagus plant.
How Do I Tell Male and Female Asparagus Plants Apart?
There are a couple of ways to tell male and female asparagus plants apart:
- by the berries
- by the flowers
- by the spears (stalks)
To tell male and female asparagus flowers apart by their berries, you will need to wait until the fall. At this point, berries will start to appear on the female plants.
However, this method is not foolproof. First of all, if you have heirloom asparagus varieties, some of the male plants may produce berries. (As mentioned before, all-male hybrid varieties will not produce berries.)
Second, if all of your asparagus plants are female, then they may not produce berries at all. Remember: male asparagus plants need to be present and close by in order for female plants to produce berries.
So, you could end up mistaking male plants for female plants, or vice versa, if you are only using berries as your criteria.
A better way to tell male from female asparagus plants is to look at the flowers, which appear in the summer. Then, use the berries in the fall as a confirmation.
To tell asparagus plants apart by their flowers, you will need to pay attention to a few details. First, the flowers on male plants are longer than the flowers on female plants. Second, the male flowers have six stamens around a pistil, whereas female flowers have six pistils and one stamen.
For more information, check out this article about asparagus flowers on garden.eco.
Of course, you can always take a look at the asparagus spears themselves – they will usually be more numerous on male plants.
How Do Asparagus Plants Reproduce?
There are two ways that asparagus plants can reproduce:
- by flowers and seeds (flowering)
- by root cuttings (vegetative)
Asparagus Reproduction By Flowers and Seeds (Flowering Reproduction)
This type of plant reproduction is the way that most people think of. However, asparagus is unusual in that it has two separate genders of plants, instead of having both male and female flowers on the same plant.
For this reason, you do need both male and female asparagus plants for flowering reproduction. You also need pollinators to help the process along.
Asparagus reproduction by flowering begins when a pollinator (such as a bee, a hummingbird, etc.) travels from flower to flower in search of nectar. In the process, the pollinator gathers pollen on its body from one flower and then spreads it around to other flowers.
When a male pollen grain lands on a female stigma, fertilization may occur. If fertilization is successful, a red berry (asparagus seed pod) will eventually form on the female plant where the flower was.
At the end of the growing season, the stalks of the female plant will fall over when it gets too tall. The berries will land on the ground, and some of them will be scattered and buried by wind, rain, or animals.
Eventually, some of the seeds inside the red berries will germinate underground and produce new asparagus plants. For more information, check out this article on pollination from the University of Georgia.
Keep in mind that when you propagate (reproduce) asparagus plants by seed, there is no guarantee that the resulting plants will be the same as the mother plant.
This is because the seed has genetic material from both parent plants, and the resulting offspring can be a completely different asparagus plant.
Asparagus Reproduction By Root Cuttings (Vegetative Reproduction)
On the other hand, if you want to propagate more asparagus plants that are guaranteed to be the same as the parent plant, then vegetative reproduction is the way to go.
In vegetative reproduction of asparagus plants, you wait for new plants to sprout underground, since the root systems do not die back in the winter. This method, called crown division, is more risky than starting seeds, since you could lose the original (mother) plant and not get a new one.
Usually, gardeners buy asparagus crowns from nurseries. These crowns were grown from seed, and are sold when they are 1 to 2 years old.
You can start harvesting spears from these plants when they are three years old. The more established an asparagus plant is, the more spears you will be able to harvest in a single season.
Frequently Asked Questions About Asparagus
There are a few more questions you might have about asparagus, so let’s try to answer them here.
How Long Does It Take For An Asparagus Plant To Produce Seeds?
A mature asparagus plant (3 years old or older) will produce tender, edible spears for 4 to 8 weeks in the early spring. After that, the spears will become tougher, especially at the bottom, and the tips will open up and develop into what look like ferns.
This fern-like growth will yield red berries with asparagus seeds on female plants in the summer or fall. If the weather is especially hot and dry, female asparagus plants may start to produce berries sooner.
How Do I Harvest Asparagus Seeds?
To harvest asparagus seeds, wait until a female plant produces berries. When the berries turn red, pick them from the plant and remove the seeds.
Clean the seeds off and let them dry out before putting them in a jar for storage. They may be viable for 2 or 3 years, but it is best to plant them the next year.
When planting saved asparagus seeds in the spring, put them 1 inch deep in sandy soil, with 3 inches between seeds. Asparagus seeds will take up to 3 weeks to germinate.
Add mulch in the fall to keep the asparagus plants warm over the winter. You can learn more about growing asparagus in this article from The University of Minnesota Extension.
Remember that the asparagus seeds you get from the red berries may not produce plants that are the same as the parent plant. You may want to consider buying asparagus seeds from a reputable seed company instead.
Should I Remove Female Asparagus Plants From My Garden?
If you want to increase your harvest of asparagus spears, it might make sense to remove female plants from your garden. This frees up space for all-male hybrid varieties, which produce more spears than female plants.
Removing female asparagus plants also prevents the red berries from falling and producing new plants from seed, which may compete with existing plants.
Are Asparagus Berries Toxic?
Yes, asparagus berries are toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. If you let pets roam around your yard, be sure to take down female asparagus plants before they fall over and the seeds become accessible to animals.
For more information, check out this article on asparagus berries from garden.eco.
By now, you have a better idea of why you are seeing red berries growing on your asparagus plants. It is not a cause for alarm, but it does mean that some of your plants are putting energy into reproduction instead of producing asparagus spears for you to eat.
I hope this article was helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information. If you have any questions or advice of your own about asparagus plants, berries, or seeds, please leave a comment below.