Asphodel is not your typical garden flower but it is something that will surely give your garden a unique look. It is generally associated with the Mediterranean climate. It can also be found in other parts of Europe as well like Africa, The Middle East, India, New Zealand, Mexico, Australia, and even the United States. In some parts of the world, it is considered invasive as its seeds spread easily through the air and the plant can adapt even to the most unlikely environments.
Asphodels are more commonly known as Jason’s Rod or King’s Spear. The species with white flowers are also known as Silver Rods. Asphodel plants have a very unique appearance that can bring a wild and exotic vibe to any garden.
Considering the unique appearance of Asphodels, it is no wonder that these plants also have an interesting history. They are associated with many myths and legends. Whether you are a fan of Greek mythology or not, one thing is for sure: these plants will surely add a touch of beauty and mystery to your garden.
Keep reading to find out more about these fascinating plants.
- The Asphodelus genus used to be a part of the Lilly family. Now it belongs to the Asphodelaceae family which includes 40 main genera and 900 plant species. The Asphodelus genus alone includes 16 species.
- The name of the Asphodel plant has an intriguing origin. Many believe that it is derived from the Georgian word Aspotola which translates to “plant with a hundred leaves”. It might also have an unknown Greek origin since it is connected to many Greek myths.
- The Asphodel plant has one of the earliest recorded histories in the plant world. It was described in detail by Hesiod in the 8th century BC.
- This plant symbolizes mourning and regret. Many translate its symbolism as “remembered beyond the tomb”. In ancient Greece, it was planted near tombs. It was believed that this plant was used as food for the dead.
- The ancient poems mentioned that Hades’ plains were filled with Asphodels. Due to these myths, many superstitions appeared around this plant. A common belief was that this plant brought death to the already sick.
- These plants were also connected to Persephone who was frequently pictured wearing a garland of asphodels. It was often mentioned by Homer in his poems.
- Despite many grim superstitions surrounding Jacob’s Rod, this plant was also used as medicine in ancient times. People valued it for its diuretic properties, but also for relieving menstrual obstructions, swellings, and spasms.
- In traditional medicine, this plant was also used as a remedy for snake bites. Despite its ancient uses, it is not used in modern medicine.
- In ancient times, Asphodelus was also used as sustenance. Its bulb can be made into bread. This was not an easy process and it was quickly outdated by agricultural processes. At some point, it was known as the bread of the poor. Although it was considered edible for a long time, studies have shown that Asphodel contains Asphodelin. This is a compound that is toxic for humans.
- Aside from edible and medicinal uses, the stalks of asphodel plants were also used by Libyan nomads to build huts. In other cultures, the stalks were used to build baskets used for harvesting or for shopping.
- Nowadays, the most common use for this plant, aside from the aesthetic one, is wrapping burrata, a popular Italian cheese. Since the leaves and the cheese have the same expiration period, the freshness of the leaves is used as an indicator of the freshness of the cheese. It is also used in some parts of the world as food for livestock.
- Asphodels are considered invasive in Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. As previously mentioned, these plants have a high degree of adaptability and the seeds are easily transported through air, so this plant often pops up in unexpected places. It has even been spotted in certain parts of the Sahara desert. But if you want to fill your garden with beautiful flowers, their easy-going nature is a great advantage.
Asphodel Features: An Overview
- Asphodel is a hardy perennial which grows in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. It is commonly found on dry hills, ploughed fields, and mountain meadows.
- Asphodels have an average height of 60 to 120 cm and an average spread of 60-70 cm. Due to their height, these flowering plants are often used as a border. Their beautiful flowers also make them suitable for a garden focal point.
- These plants feature elongated stems surrounded by narrow blue-green leaves which resemble grass. The leaves grow in a rosette structure.
- Each stem features a flower spike. The spike is a racemose inflorescence, featuring stalk-less flowers which grow around a central stalk. A similar flower distribution can be seen in lavender, although the flowers are significantly smaller.
- Asphodel flowers have a star shape with 6 petals. The flowers can be yellow, white, or pink. The petals have a reddish line in the middle and a dark-coloured central nerve. It blooms in late spring and early summer.
- While most Asphodel species have no intense scent, yellow Asphodel stands out due to its intense sweet fragrance.
Asphodel is not a difficult plant, as long as you satisfy a few basic requirements. It can grow in any type of soil, be it neutral, alkaline, or even acidic soil. Rocky or sandy soil with a good amount of humus is ideal for Jacob’s Rod. A mixture of peat and sand will also work well. In a nutshell, the soil needs to have good draining properties and the plant should get full sun exposure if possible. It can also grow well in partial sun, but less sun exposure might translate to fewer flower spikes.
The plant can benefit from an organic fertilizer in the spring. Mulching is also recommended in colder climates. This will provide cold insulation which will protect the plants from thawing and rapid freezing. It also prevents the roots from heaving out of the ground.
These hardy plants are usually very resistant when it comes to pests and diseases. Not even herbivorous animals will eat this plant. As far as pruning goes, it is not necessary unless it becomes invasive. Pruning the dead leaves will also improve the overall look of the plant. You can deadhead the spent flowers after the flowering season. Deadheading is optional as the dry seed heads can also look good during autumn.
Asphodels are heat-tolerating plants, but they do require a certain level of humidity. In their native Mediterranean climate, they can get humidity from the air, but in gardens, they need to be watered regularly.
The soil should be moist, but well-drained. Soggy soil will cause root rot. Mulching is also a great way of keeping the soil moist. It reduces evaporation during dry periods and prevents the soil from cracking and exposing the roots.
You can grow some species of Asphodel in pots. Potted plants will need about one cup of water every 8-9 days. As a general rule, whether they grow indoors or outdoors, these plant likes to be watered regularly, in small amounts.
You can propagate Asphodels through seeds or through division in the spring. You can sow the seeds directly outdoors or indoors, but each method will be a little different. When sowing outdoors, you need to do it in early spring. After sprinkling the seeds, cover them lightly with a thin layer of soil, when the seedlings grow over 20 cm tall, you will need to space them. Spacing needs can differ for each type of plant. Smaller species will need about 15-20 cm between them, whereas larger species will need a spacing of 40-50 cm.
When sowing indoors, start in late winter. and expect a germination period of 1 month. The indoor temperature should be between 21 to 24 °C. Transplant the seedlings outdoors once the danger of the last frost has passed. You can also transplant them at the start of autumn, but you will have to wait until next spring to see flowers. When transplanting the seedlings, plant the roots at a depth of 7 to 10 cm. If you decide to try propagating through decision, you will have to wait for the flowering season to pass.
Due to their side, Asphodels are great as accent plants, but they can also make for a great border. Despite their size, Asphodels looks best when grown in masses. Nonetheless, since their foliage is quite voluminous, they don’t look great when combined with other flowers.
Asphodels looks best near lawns and in rocky gardens, where the focus is only on them. Asphodel also makes for great cut flowers. The tall flower stalks can easily fit in any flower decoration or centrepiece.
Since they are resistant to droughts, pests, and diseases, Asphodels are very easy to grow and care for. These plants will thrive as long as they get enough sunshine and grow in fertile, well-drained soil. As such, Asphodels are suitable even for beginner gardeners, or for people with limited gardening time.