Thursday, October 20, 2011

Weird Plant

When I first encounter something strange, my mind needs less than a second to flash through a multitude of exotic explanations for what I’ve found. This odd mass of plant material was no exception. I guess there’s a part of my mind that still clings to my childhood admiration of early explorers making unimaginable discoveries and science fiction movie scientists who were always called upon to deal with local manifestations of strange phenomenon.

It was impossible to miss this bare spot in the middle of so much tall grass. I always enjoy finding something different. Difference indicates diversity, which is something I strive for in my management efforts. After it’s found, there is the work of discovering whether the difference is good or bad.

The most noticeable feature is the mass of thick, fleshy roots that are now exposed and drying. Roots like that should be capable of holding enough moisture to get any plant through the super dry conditions of a hillside prairie.

A topside view shows rhizomes radiating out from a central point. I suppose at some point in the past there was a single plant that began life in that center area. Now the whole thing reminds me of some monster starfish with one foot arms. Or those could be the ensnaring arms of some man-eating plant that died while waiting for someone to step on that central trigger.

Along the rhizome are alternating rows of leaf clusters that surrounded the bases of branches that towered several feet into the air. The actual leaves were reduced to mere scales that probably never saw daylight. The plant depended on the photosynthetic abilities of the green stalks to produce the needed energy for the plant.

A few small branches were evident near the end of one rhizome. The branches were much reduced in size from what would have been found when the plant was at its prime.

The very last branch represented the final spark in the long life of this Wild Asparagus plant. How did I rate the diversity represented by this plant? Well, Asparagus is a non-native plant that doesn’t fit into my management plans for Blue Jay Barrens, so the fact that it’s here has to count as a negative. The fact that it’s dieing and will soon be gone has to count as a positive. During its life, the Asparagus crowded out the native plant population, so we have another negative. The resulting bare patch is now being colonized by several species of new plants which could be good or bad depending on the species. I’ll just have to wait and see what future years bring. Based on the enjoyment I had in finding this old Asparagus, I think I’ll have to nudge my score of the total experience over to the positive side.


  1. Looks to me like the most conspicuous colonist of the bare spot is a baby asparagus plant! On the other hand, this plant can hardly be considered an agressive invasive species, and one can nibble its emerging shoots in spring, so I'd say not all bad.

  2. Hi, James. I prefer to see the baby asparagus as the final spark of life from the old plant. In my vision, I see nothing of asparagus growing here next year.

  3. As I was scrolling through your blog looking at the photos, I thought "that looks just like the asparagus plant I have in a pot!" and that is what you have. My potted plant is purely ornamental - I have never tried to eat its shoots. In the Appalachians, this plant would be right at home and subject to harvesting by those "Stalking the Wild Asparagus".

  4. Hi Wilma. When this plant was at its prime, I'm sure it produced some tasty spears.