Saturday, June 16, 2012

Female Asparagus

Female asparagus spear

Male asparagus spear

Asparagus plants have been a real surprise to me, and to every non-gardener who's visited my garden this year.  The finger-like spears you find at the grocery store are very young shoots, picked just a couple days after they emerge from the ground.  We have all been sort of bemused to see those little fingers (which are extra petite on my young plants) open up and spread out into these tall, spindly, airy puffs of green so insubstantial that the camera looks right through them.  (Sorry about the pictures.  Clearly I am helpless without autofocus.)

Recently I noticed something funny about one of the asparagus plants at my community garden plot.  It has all these little crumb-sized pods sticking out from the stems.  My first thought was that it was some sort of disease or infestation, but after squinting at it for a minute a memory stirred in the back of my brain - something about growing asparagus from seed.  You see, asparagus plants are gendered, so when you start your plants from seed, half the plants that grow are naturally female, while the other half are male.  And female asparagus produce...berries!  Cool, right?

Well, not really.  Unlike the barnyard, the asparagus patch is the ruled by the males.  Male asparagus have higher yields, because more of their energy goes into producing spears, and the berries are actually a nuisance because they tend to over-populate the bed.  Steve Solomon's advice?  Plant at twice the desired spacing and kill the women!  All's fair in love and food.


  1. Who knew?! Thanks Shaela. Question ...have you taken the advice of Solomon?

  2. Well... kind of. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I planted my asparagus in pots, and I do think I got two crowns per pot in most of the pots - twice the spacing, I guess. But so far only one of my plants is definitely female. That seems statistically unlikely from 12 plants, right? So I think maybe there are more females that haven't started to produce berries yet, and I wouldn't want to tip my hand by killing their sister, would I? (Or maybe I just haven't gotten around to it. ;)

  3. Fascinating! So, are the seeds gendered, or do the plants turn into one gender or the other based on sensing pollen count or something?

  4. Hmmm...good question! I think they must be intrinsically gendered, because it is possible to buy seed varieties that are engineered to be all-male. (I have no idea how they do that!)