Asparagus fern

Ross Koning koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Thu Dec 4 16:33:46 EST 1997


At 3:59 PM -0500 12/1/97, AppliedLab wrote:
>If the aparagus fern (densiflorus sprengeri) doesn't really sprout asparagu=
s,
>then why is its name the asparagus fern?
>Zack Mills

I chose to answer one of these many questions
coming from one particular address, mostly to
give you a way to think about the questions you
are asking and to seek out answers before you
shoot them off to the internet...maybe you can
share this with your friends, Zack?

Asparagus sprengeri is the Latin binomial used
for the plant you are asking about.  Indeed it
is a very close relative of the vegetable asparagus
that perhaps you have eaten in springtime.  This
particular relative, though, is grown for its
beautiful branching pattern.  The cultivated
variety called 'densiflorus' has a rather dense
branching system that makes each system look like
a tapered Elodea sprig.  The systems arch gracefully
over the plant much like fern fronds.

If you looked into a book at the library with
colorful photos of plants (Hortus for example)
you might have found a photo of this plant's nice
white flowers with parts in multiples  of three
(ah yes, a monocot!).   So it cannot ever be a
true fern because it makes flowers.

A bit of reading about ferns would tell you that
ferns reproduce not by flowers, fruits, and seeds,
but by means of spores.  This asparagus definitely
has flowers, fruits, and seeds...so it is no fern.

Putting these ideas together and realizing that
"Asparagus fern" is not Latin, you understand that it
is not a scientific name, but rather a common name.
Common names are often very misleading and certainly
"Asparagus fern" is that!  Sure the plant is an
Asparagus all right, but it only LOOKS like a fern
superficially.  So this common name is one of those
that is only HALF right...in terms of botanical
accuracy.  But then again, we all rely upon common
names that are perhaps only partly right.  Maybe you
read about John Denver recently...let's just say that
his name is only half accurate from a genealogy
point of view.  But we know who we are talking about
so we go ahead and use John Denver all over the place.

It is OK for some uses, but I wouldn't be trying to
search out the Denver family tree backwards from John
to his ancestors with the Denver name!

ross

________________________________________________________________
Ross Koning                 | koning at ecsu.ctstateu.edu
Biology Department          | http://koning.ecsu.ctstateu.edu/
Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479
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