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Family: Asparagaceae Juss.

Kingdom: Plantae Rank: Family Parent: Asparagales Status: Valid

Common Names:

  • ASPARAGUS FAMILY - English, United States of America

Morphological Description

Family Recognition in the Field: The only species occurring in East TX is an introduced perennial 1–2(–3) m tall with leaves reduced to scales and numerous very finely dissected leaf-like branches; flowers are small and axillary and fruits are red berries.


Notes: A small family of 2 genera and ca. 305 species (Judd 2001). In addition to Asparagus, the family includes only Hemiphylacus, a small Mexican group of 5 species (Hernández 1995). While previously often placed in the Asphodelaceae or Hyacinthaceae, recent evidence (primarily molecular data) suggests that Hemiphylacus be included in the Asparagaceae (e.g., Rudall et al. 1997, 1998b; Judd 2001). Members of the Asparagaceae are typically adapted to dry conditions. According to Kubitzki and Rudall (1998), “Most species are found in regions with semiarid to arid and Mediterranean- type climate, and extreme xeromorphic adaptations are common.” Many authorities have put the taxa here treated as Asparagaceae in a broadly defined and clearly polyphyletic (but practical) Liliaceae (e.g., Correll & Johnston 1970; Cronquist 1988; Diggs et al. 1999), based on superficial similarities in flower structure to the genus Lilium. Others (e.g., Mabberley 1997) have recognized the Asparagaceae but have treated it in a broad sense (6 genera). However, based on phylogenetic analyses, we are following Judd (2001) in recognizing the Asparagaceae as a mono- phyletic family of two genera in the order Asparagales, closely related to the Convallariaceae (Rudall et al. 1997; Fay et al. 2000). As such, it is more closely related to other Asparagales families such as the Iridaceae and Orchidaceae than it is to many other taxa often put in a broadly defined Liliaceae (Chase et al. 1995a, 1995b, 1996, 2000; Fay et al. 2000). For a detailed discussion of the groups formerly treated as Liliaceae in the broad sense, see the family synopsis of the Liliaceae (here treated in a restricted sense) on page 726. In contrast to the narrow treatment here, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG II 2003), based largely on molecular data, recently suggested treating the Asparagaceae extremely broadly to include a number of diverse families, including the Agavaceae, Hyacinthaceae, Ruscaceae (including Convallariaceae, Dracaenaceae, and Nolinaceae), and Themidaceae, among others. As such, the Asparagaceae is extremely broadly defined morphologically. Because of this lack of morphological coherence, and until nomenclature in the petaloid monocots is more settled, we are following Judd (2001) in recognizing the family in the narrow sense. (subclass Liliidae—Cronquist; order Asparagales—APG II)