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Bridal creeper or florist’s smilax (Asparagus asparagoides, syn

Bridal creeper or florist’s smilax (Asparagus asparagoides, syn. Myrsiphyllum asparagoides )

Asparagus asparagoides Asparagus asparagoides Asparagus asparagoides

Family: Asparagaceae

Status: Weed of National Significance (one of Australia’s top 20 weeds)

Description:
Relatively small scrambling plant with wiry stems, which tends to behave more as a groundcover, or climb a short distance into shrubs and small trees. Bridal creeper has glossy, thin, bright green leaves, to 7cm long by 3cm wide, with close parallel veins. Small white flowers are followed by berries which ripen from green to dark red.

Preferred habitat and impacts:
Most common close to the coast, where it invades banksia woodland and other open coastal vegetation. It tolerates some degree of salinity. Also turns up in farming areas and along roadsides under trees, where birds spread the seeds. It tolerates full sun, but is happier in shade. It dries off and becomes dormant over summer, doing most of its growing and fruiting in autumn through to spring.
Can completely dominate the lower layers of vegetation, smothering shrubs and groundcover. The dense root mat competes with other vegetation for soil moisture, and can prevent rainfall from penetrating the soil. Browned off foliage in summer may become a fire hazard. This plant is an economic weed of citrus orchards in the inland irrigation areas, as well as being a major environmental weed, so there have been recent attempts to find biological control agents for it.

Dispersal:
Seed is spread by birds. Dumping of rhizomes (wiry underground stems). The swollen underground tubers are not capable of sprouting, unless there is a small piece of rhizome attached to them.

Look-alikes:
Wiry native vines, wombat berry (Eustrephus latifolius) and scrambling lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum) are a little similar to bridal creeper, but the leaves are longer, narrower and more spread out on the stems and are not glossy. Wombat berry fruits are yellow, and scrambling lily fruits are black.
Other weedy asparagus "ferns" occur in the region, but most are not climbers. The most common is Asparagus densiflorus (formerly Protasparagus aethiopicus), which has red fruits. Another climbing asparagus fern is Asparagus scandens, which has orange berries and much smaller leaves.

Eustrephus latifolius Geitonoplesium cymosum Asparagus densiflorus Asparagus scandens

Control
Dig small plants, being careful to remove all of the root system. Spray larger infestations, as this plant has a huge root system which it is impractical to remove. Plants can grow from tiny fragments of rhizome, so creating a lot of soil disturbance around an infestation is not a good idea. Alternatively, for small infestations, "crowning" the plants works well. This involves removing the growing point where the stems emerge from the rhizome, leaving tubers and roots behind. A sharp knife or secateurs can be used for this job, or a narrow post-hole digger for really large plants.
When spraying, selective herbicides give better results. Spray during winter or spring when the plants are actively growing. Repeat treatments will be needed.
Two biological controls have recently been released on the south coast, a rust fungus and a sap-sucking leaf-hopper (a tiny insect). The rust fungus produces yellow spore clusters on the underside of the leaf, while the leaf-hopper turns leaves patchily white. It remains to be seen how well these two biocontrol agents will establish, and whether they will be highly effective against bridal creeper.