Conserving Wild Asparagus

Wild Asparagus seedling survivor. © Bryan Edwards

Wild Asparagus seedling survivor.

Project:
Conserving Wild Asparagus
Location:
Dorset

Did you know Wild Asparagus can still be found growing in certain parts of the UK?
Our team has been working to conserve this unique and endangered plant.


Wild Asparagus is a coastal plant that grows in a handful of counties in the UK, including Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Cornwall and Dorset. It only grows in Western Europe, is genetically different from garden asparagus and tastes very different too.

The problem
This was once a plentiful plant but due to changes in land use and management, its decline has led it to be classed as an ‘endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In Cornwall, on the Lizard it is also being out competed by the invasive hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis.

The plant has separate male and female plants, and is insect pollinated. When populations become too small, and there is only one sex present, or they become too scattered, pollination is difficult. This, therefore, limits population growth.

A UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been put in place to help protect and conserve these plants. The National Trust is working with the National Museum of Wales, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and local botanists to record Wild Asparagus locations.

A technique to help conserve Wild Asparagus: hand pollination
In order to try to boost the UK’s Wild Asparagus population, Natural England and the National Trust set up a hand pollination project.

The first plant to receive a ‘helping hand’ was a single female plant in Dorset. With no male plants around to pollinate her (lost to development), the population was under threat.

The objective of the project was to hand pollinate her with some fertile male plants, obtain the seed from her fruit, and sow, grow, and plant out the seedlings to boost the local population.

Male plants were selected from two donor National Trust sites in Cornwall. Their stems, complete with ripe anthers and lots of pollen, were snipped and transported to Dorset for some very delicate match making.

Asparagus success

After a nail-biting few months our lonely female produced lots of ripe berries from which seed was extracted. 90 per cent of those seeds germinated.

The seedlings were grown domestically in pots and planted out in two suitable sites two years later. A recent site visit recorded a 95% survival rate; their monitoring continues.

Wild Asparagus is a coastal plant that grows in a handful of counties in the UK, including Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Cornwall and Dorset. It only grows in Western Europe, is genetically different from garden asparagus and tastes very different too.

The problem
This was once a plentiful plant but due to changes in land use and management, its decline has led it to be classed as an ‘endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In Cornwall, on the Lizard it is also being out competed by the invasive hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis.

The plant has separate male and female plants, and is insect pollinated. When populations become too small, and there is only one sex present, or they become too scattered, pollination is difficult. This, therefore, limits population growth.

A UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been put in place to help protect and conserve these plants. The National Trust is working with the National Museum of Wales, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and local botanists to record Wild Asparagus locations.

A technique to help conserve Wild Asparagus: hand pollination

In order to try to boost the UK’s Wild Asparagus population, Natural England and the National Trust set up a hand pollination project.

The first plant to receive a ‘helping hand’ was a single female plant in Dorset. With no male plants around to pollinate her (lost to development), the population was under threat.

The objective of the project was to hand pollinate her with some fertile male plants, obtain the seed from her fruit, and sow, grow, and plant out the seedlings to boost the local population.

Male plants were selected from two donor National Trust sites in Cornwall. Their stems, complete with ripe anthers and lots of pollen, were snipped and transported to Dorset for some very delicate match making.

Asparagus success

After a nail-biting few months our lonely female produced lots of ripe berries from which seed was extracted. 90 per cent of those seeds germinated.

The seedlings were grown domestically in pots and planted out in two suitable sites two years later. A recent site visit recorded a 95 per cent survival rate; their monitoring continues.

Other techniques
Work to conserve other threatened Wild Asparagus populations includes continued botanical recording, through registered county recorders with the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and Local Record Centres; tissue culture and cloning techniques at sites in Wales, under the direction of the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), in partnership with the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth; and removal of the invasive hottentot fig around key sites in Cornwall, in partnership with Plantlife with funding from Esmee Fairburn Foundation and Natural England.