ASPARAGUS, a member of the lily family of plants, is a vegetable. About 150 species of asparagus are grown in the temperate parts of the world, but just one (Asparagus officinalis) is usually eaten.
Asparagus grows best in loose, rich, sandy soil. In gardens the seeds are sown early in the spring, though the plants may be started at any time of the year in greenhouses. Asparagus plants must be from two to four years old before they are ready for cutting. Asparagus is a hardy perennial of the lily family, with tuberous roots. The plants are started from seeds and transplanted to a permanent bed in the spring of the second year. They are ready for cutting after they have grown two years in the permanent bed. They continue to produce for 20 years or more. A delicate vinelike variety—wrongly called “smi-lax” by florists—is grown in greenhouses.
The young stems of asparagus plants are used as food. They are cut when the leaves of the plant are small buds and the stems or spears are tender and less than 10 inches high. The young spears are cut each day for six to eight weeks.
After that time the stems begin to get tough and woody as they branch and start to blossom. Each autumn the old stalks of the garden variety are cut down.
If left to grow the plants reach heights of three to four feet. Most asparagus leaves are tiny and fernlike; the flowers are small and yellowish, and the fruits are red berries.
One land of asparagus (Asparagus aspara-goides) is commonly called smilax. Its stiff, shiny leaves are used in flower arrangements. Wild varieties of asparagus grow in Europe and Asia, especially along the seacoasts, and in some parts of the United States.
Asparagus has been a popular food since Greek and Roman times. It is most often cooked in water and eaten hot, but it is also used to make soup or chilled and served in salads.
The asparagus fern is a kind of asparagus used in floral arrangements. It also is a good house plant
Scientific classification. Asparagus belongs to the Llly family, Lillaceae. Edible asparagus is Asparagus officinalis. The asparagus fern is A. plumosus.