by Stephen Mifsud
   24 Sep 2020      ()
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Asparagus stipularis   (Grey Asparagus)

Asparagus stipularis  (ASPARAGACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
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Asparagaceae spp. Index Plant Family Index
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Profile Date Mar-2007 (last update: 12-Jan-2019)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (Mar-2007) Asparagus stipularis retrieved from on 2020-Sep-24


Species name :

Asparagus stipularis  Forrsk.

Authority :

Carl von Linne, Sweden, 1707-1778

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: Asparagus horridus
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Asparagaceae  Juss. (= Liliaceae )
(Asparagus Family)

English name(s) :

Grey Asparagus

Maltese name(s) :

Spraġġ griż

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Asparagus = An old Greek name given for these peculiar plants with needle-like \leaves' (Greek)
stipularis = Bearing stipules (Latin)

Remarks :

This is a rather rare plant found only at the margin of the south coastal cliffs of Gozo. This species was doubtfully recorded in Malta by Borg in his flora (published in 1927) as Asparagus aphyllus subsp. horridus from mainland Malta, but these records are somewhat doubtful, possibly nothing more than atypical forms of the common Asparagus aphyllus. However, typical specimens of A. horridus (syn: A. stipularis Forsk.) were first rediscoved, or perhaps, first recorded from Gozo by Mr. Sdravko Vesselinov Lalov and later by Stephen Mifsud in 2007. Numerous specimens occur only from coastal cliffs between Wardija point to Ta'Cenc.

Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Ascending :

Climbing up; lower part of stem is lying on the ground but the upper part of stem rises upwards.

Highly Branched :

Numerous branches and sub-branches are present but the common main stem is usually tall and well visible.

Glabrous :

Smooth; without any hairs, bristles or other projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Alternate :

Growing at different positions along the stem axis.

Sessile :

Growing directly from the stem; without a stalk.

Parallel venation :

Veins running from the base parallel to the leaf longitudinal axis.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Needle like :

Slender and long.

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.

The true leaves are reduced to scale-like, non-photosynthetic stipules. The green, needle-like structures that are usually referred to as leaves are actually modified stems called cladodes.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Yellow & Maroon

Tepals are generally yellow with their tips and underside being maroon.

Stellate :

A flower with non overlapping petals arising separately from a central point and hence forming a shape of a star.


(ref. to the tepals).



  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Umbel :

A cluster of flowers whose spreading stalks (pedicels) arise from a common point on the stem (often at the apex).

A small actinomorphic flower composed of 6 narrow and fleshy tepals with a marron-purple tip. Tepals have a central longitudinal furrow.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

#, Antipetalous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



Sweet scent, which may be missed in wind.

7-8 mm across

Pale Yellow




No. Per Fruit






(Usually only 1 is found).





Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Berry :

A fleshy rounded fruit usually very colourful and with hard seeds.

Dark Purple

Rhizome :

A prostrate or underground plant stem, forming shoots above and roots below.They serve as a reproductive structure and sometimes have thickened areas that store starch.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

Nano-Phanerophyte (small trees to large shrubs)


High rocky coastal cliffs (esp. on Globigerina Limestone flanks)



Localities in Malta:

Rare, but locally frequent at a stretch of 5km at the south coast of Gozo.

Plant Height:

A rather low sub-prostrate plant (c. 30cm from ground level) but its trailing branches can extend to 1m in length.

Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Not Poisonous.

This plant has the typical growth habit of many Asparagaceae, hence forming long branches from underground rhizomes which becomes prostrate to the ground or grow up vertically if they find support (eg: bushes or walls). Each of the branches are multi-branching and can take the form a low sub-shrub.

The new branch is initially in the form of a soft shoot which is a flexible, elongated structure and the edible part of the plant. Shoots start growing by the end of Winter in Malta. First the shoot forms hyaline, papery, sessile leaves only about 5mm long and triangular in shape. These have little or no photosynthetic function. From their axil grows a green branch which gives rise to several needle-shaped structures called cladodes. These are botacinally considered as modified stems with photosynthetic function, while for the amateur, they might look as needle-shaped leaves.

The cladodes of Asparagus horridus are solitary (especially at the upper parts of the branch), and the largest ones often reach 3 or 4cm in length. They are thick (up to 2.5mm), slightly curved, stiff, slightly flattened structures. The cladodes of this species offer protection from herbivores by having a stiff, sharp-pointed bristle (or spine) at their tip. The inconspicuous, papery leaves looks like stipules in a developped branch. They are found appressed to the stem and most probably functionless.

By the end of Winter, maroon flowering buds are formed. They are arranged as umbel-like inflorescences which grow from the axils of cladodes. They are few-flowered, usually in pairs or threes but collectively, there are plenty of flowers per branch. Not all branches form flowers, and those which do looks to have smaller (=younger?) cladodes. Flowers have a very short pedicel (2mm) which on a closer examination, it reveals to have a joint (swelling) at the lower part.

The actinomorphic flowers consist of 6 fleshy tepals (3 sepals + 3 petals) which are about 3mm long each. The tepals have a 'dirty' yellow colour with their tips and underside being maroon. The flowers emit a fragrant smell which can be missed in windy days. The male reproductive part consist of 6 erect stamens with stout filaments and yellow anthers. The female part is a central superior ovary divided into 3 locules with a short stigma and slightly swollen style.

The fruit is an indehiscent berry which has a distinctive bluish-black colour compared to the other native species of asparagus which have green, red or black berries. The berries have a spherical structure, about 6 mm across, and hold small, hard, black seeds with a smooth, glossy surface. There is 1-3 seeds per fruit, but often only 1 is present.

Information, uses and other details

Nativity and distribution

The distributional (native) range of this plant is shown in the list below:  [WWW-26]

Northern Africa:   Algeria (n.); Egypt; Libya (n.); Morocco; Tunisia
Western Asia:   Cyprus; Israel; Jordan; Syria
Europe:   Greece (incl. Crete); Italy - Sardinia, Sicily, Portugal; Spain (incl. Baleares)

The distribution range in Europe according to reference  [WWW-158] is : the Isles of Baleares, Crete, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Sardegna, Sicily.

Main differences between Asparagus aphyllus and Asparagus horridus

The table below show he main differences between A. horridus, and the common A. aphyllus  [SM]
Feature A. aphyllus A. horridus
Flowering season Spring (Mar-May) Autumn (Sep-Nov)
Apical cladodes Borne in clusters (>6) Solitary or up to 5
Normal cladodes length 1-2cm 2-4cm
Colour at the underside of the tepals Yellow Reddish brown
Colour of the berries Black Bluish black
Stipules Small, unconspicuous Well developed, semi-hyaline structures.

Edible uses

Young shoots are edible  [177]. It is likely that they are cooked and used like asparagus  [KF].Young shoots of asparagus are collected from the wild and eaten as vegetables. They are rich in potassium phosphate, calcium, manganese, cobolt compounds and iron, making them excellent is cases of anaemia. However, asparagus can cause insomnia if eaten in large quantities.  [WWW-177]

The young shoots of Asparagus acutifolius, Asparagus horridus and the young leaves of Silene vulgaris, which are the most typical examples in both sites studied, are cut, fried and mixed with the eggs to make the omelette.  [395]

Medicinal Uses

The plant, especially the young stems, contain asparagine used as a diuretic in medicine and also in cases of arrhythmia and other heart complaints. It is also useful for the treatment of bronchitis, respiratory infections and rheumatism.  [WWW-177] The plant has the following medicinal properties according to reference:  [WWW-66] .
Headache Used to treat headache
Diaphoretic Drug used to produce perspiration     [WWW-32]
Piles Used to treat pain caused by venous swelling at or inside the anal sphincter    [WWW-32]

Both the fresh roots and shoots of many species of Asparagus act as diuretics, communicating an unpleasant odor to the urine. A syrup is prepared by adding sugar to the expressed juice, deprived of its albumen by heating and straining, or an extract may be prepared from them by evaporation of the juice to a semi-solid condition. The dose of the former is from 2 to 3 fluid ounces; of the latter, from 30 to 60 grains. They are said to cause copious diuresis, and are reputed very beneficial in repressing undue excitement of the circulatory system, and have been used with advantage in enlargement of the heart, dropsy, etc. It is said that asparagus shoots may produce irritation of the urinary mucous surfaces, attended with a morbid mucorrhoea.  [WWW-09]

Notes on Aspargine

Asparagine is one of the 20 most common natural amino acids on Earth. It has carboxamide as the side chain's functional group. It is considered a non-essential amino acid.

Its three-letter abbreviation is Asn, and its one-letter abbreviation is N. A three-letter designation for either asparagine or aspartic acid is Asx (one-letter abbreviation: B).

A reaction between asparagine and reducing sugars or reactive carbonyls produces acrylamide (acrylic amide) in food when heated to sufficient temperature, i.e. baking. These occur primarily in baked goods such as french fries, potato chips, and roasted coffee.

Asparagine was first isolated in 1806 from asparagus juice, in which it is abundant--hence its name--becoming the first amino acid to be isolated. The smell observed in the urine of individuals after their consumption of asparagus is attributed to a byproduct of the metabolic breakdown of asparagine, asparagine-amino-succinic-acid monoamide. (However, some scientists disagree and implicate other substances in the smell, especially methanethiol). Oddly, some people are not able to detect the odour of the compound.  [WWW-60]


Pre-soak seeds for 12 hours in warm water and then sow in spring or as soon as the seed is ripe in early autumn in a greenhouse. It usually germinates in 3 - 6 weeks at 25�c  [134]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a sunny position in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer.Division in early spring as the plant comes into growth.  [KF]


The flowers are sweetly scented, diffusing their scent about the garden.  [KF]

Personal Observations

Records of A. horridus on the Maltese islands.
This is a rare plant that was rediscovered after several decades. Its was last recorded by Borg in 1927 (as Asparagus aphyllus subsp. stipularis) and since then never reconfirmed, and consequently, it was taught that it had become extinct. More probably it could be a case that the records by Borg was only atypical forms of Asparagus aphyllus. Mr. Sdravko Lalov and later Stephen Mifsud, found again this species in Gozo at the coastal cliffs of Ta' Cenc, Seguna, Sanap, Xlendi and Wardija.  [SM]

Photo Gallery   (36 Images)

Photo of the plant found full of reddish-brown buds and some flowers at the beginning of March 2007.
Photo of flower surrounded by numerous knob-like buds. Asparagus stipularis flowers in Spring on contrast to the common Asparagus aphyllus which flowers in early Autumn.
Photo of flower (Side-view) showing the reddish-brown underside of the tepals.
Close up of the flower. Note that the reddish-brown colour is restricted to a central narrow band in the inner whorl of tepals, while the outer whorl is almost completely brown.
Photo of more flowers. They grow from the axils of cladodes and held by short thin pedicels (1-2mm long).
Photo of the flowers at a closer view. They are made up of 6 tepals with a waxy-yellow colour, 6 stamens and a central pistil.
Macro photo of the flowers showing in details their morphology. Anthers produce bright yellow pollen and have thick, flattened filaments while the ovary is spherical with a short style.
Photo of a pair of flowers chosen from the several hundreds that the plant produced in mid March, 2007.
Photo of a flower, several buds and the spine-tipped cladodes.
Close-up photo of a flower with its 6 stamens resting above the tepals.
Another close-up photo of a flower which measures about 7mm across.
Photo of another flower, blossoming at March.
Photo of a flowering branch with flowers still being in small, (sub-)spherical buds. Blossoming is from March to April/May.
Scanned image of flowering branches, usually having smaller cladodes.
Annotated image of a flowering branch. Note the reduced hyaline, scale-like leaves, which look more like stipules. They have no photosynthetic function.
Another photo of the purple-maroon, bead-like buds.
Photo of flower buds which grow from axils of the needle-shaped cladodes.
Photo of flower buds which have a small pedicel.
Close up of buds which can be resembles as miniature figs! Note the joint at the lower part of the pedicel.
Another photo of the knob-shaped buds produced in numerous quantities during late Winter to early Spring.
Photo of the large cladodes with a sharp spiny tip. Very dangerous if pressed or stepped on.
Photo of the cladodes, which are solitary and can reach up to 4 or 5cm in length. They are curved and slightly flattened .
Photo of a branch with numerous sub-branches forming a dense mesh-work of cladodes.
Scanned image of uppermost part of a branch.
Scanned and enlarged image of the cladodes. Note the longitudinal veins or ridges along the cladode length and the spiny tip.
Photo of a large, multi-branching specimen found prostrate on rocky ground by the coast.
Photo of another specimen of Asparagus stipularis found in a dry rocky habitat - 5th March 2007.
Photo of a young branch shoot, initially starting as fleshy, flexible structure. It is the edible part as in some other Asparagus members.
Photo of apical part of a very young shoot.
Photo of a more developed shoot, where side branching is taking place. Note the reddish buds which are already formed in the developing shoot.
Close up photo of the apex of a young shoot. Leaves are oppressed to the stem and papery.
Photo of the fruit of Asparagus stipularis, which is a small spherical bluish-black berry, about 8mm in diameter.
Close up photo of fruit.
The seeds inside the berries are black, spherical, glabrous and about 2-3mm across. Each of the 5 berries tested, had a single seed.
Close up of 2 seeds. They have a smooth (nearly glossy) surface and are very hard.
Side-by-side photo of Asparagus aphyllus (left) and Asparagus stipularis. A. aphyllus do not have any stipule-like leaves at the base of the cladode cluster in comparison with A. stipularis which have a distinct one. When maturing, A. stipularis becomes more bluish-green in colour. The apical cladodes of A. stipularis are often solitary or up to 3, but in A. aphyllus they can be found in whorls of 4 or 6.

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