What’s the Difference Between Male and Female Asparagus Plants?

In my book, asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is king of the edible perennial garden.

A close up vertical picture of asparagus spears growing in the ground with deep green stems on a soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

Producing tender spears early in spring, this veggie makes for delicious seasonal meals – and a sensational start to the year’s growing season.

Unlike some garden vegetables such as peas, which are self-pollinating, asparagus is dioecious, meaning some plants are male and some are female.

To reproduce, a honeybee or some other pollinator has to visit the flowers of both male and female plants.

Since the differences in gender are meaningful when it comes to your yearly harvest tally, recognizing the gender of these plants can be a helpful gardening skill.

A close up of fresh asparagus spears tied together with a little string, to the right of the bunch is a wicker basket containing some that are cut up, and to the right of the frame a few dried chillies and a star anise, all set on a wooden background.

Are you ready to add this knowledge to your gardening toolkit? Good – I hear your resounding “Yes!”

But before we get started, here’s a quick overview of what I’ll cover:

Gender Similarities in Asparagus

I realize you are eager to learn how to look at an asparagus plant and tell its gender.

A close up of a small purple asparagus spear poking through the dark, rich soil, on a soft focus background.

But before we go there, let’s start by examining the ways in which the two genders are indistinguishable:

  • Both produce edible shoots or spears that grow from underground roots commonly called “crowns.”
  • Spears from both genders grow into wispy, frond-like stems called “ferns” that can reach up to 7 feet tall.
  • From these fronds, both genders produce small greenish white or yellow flowers.

Gender Differences in Asparagus

So, the gender of asparagus plants is pretty hard to distinguish up to this point – at least from a human point of view.

A close up of the green, fern-like foliage of mature asparagus plants growing in rows in the garden fading to soft focus in the background.

But we’re starting at the flowering stage, which means reproduction. This is where things tend to get more graphic, and gender becomes more easily discernible to the human eye.

Flowers

Even though both sexes produce flowers, the blooms of each gender aren’t exactly the same.

Rows of asparagus plants growing in a commercial setting with the fern-like leaves, and support sticks to keep them upright.

You can distinguish between genders by looking at the plants’ tiny greenish white or yellow flowers, which measure only around a quarter of an inch in length – so make sure you have your magnifying glass ready.

A close up of tiny flowers developing on an asparagus plant, surrounded by fern-like, bright green foliage fading to soft focus in the background.

If you look inside the flower petals and see visible yellow or orange stamens, you have a male plant.

A close up of the small yellow flower of the female asparagus plant set on a soft focus green background.
A. officinalis male flowers

And if your peek beneath the petals reveals a green ovary and white pistil, you are looking at a female plant.

A close up of the flowers of a female asparagus plant growing from the stem on a dark soft focus background.
A. officinalis female flowers showing green ovaries and white pistil. Photo by Steven J. Baskauf, Bioimages via CC4.0.

Another discernible difference between blooms is that male flowers are more bell-shaped than female flowers, which are more spherical.

Berries

If female flowers are pollinated, they will turn into berries – another important difference between the genders. Male flowers – except on very rare occasions – do not turn into berries.

A close up of red berries forming on a female asparagus plant, surrounded by fern-like foliage starting to turn yellow on a bright green soft focus background.

If you have just planted your crowns, your female plants may not develop berries until after the first year.

A close up of an asparagus plant with bright green foliage and small green, unripe berries with a blue sky in the background.
Female asparagus with green berries

Berries start out green and then gradually ripen to red in late summer or fall.

A close up of a female asparagus plant that has been pollinated and produced red berries, with yellow foliage in bright sunshine.
Female asparagus in autumn

You’re probably wondering about the rare occasions I mentioned earlier. While rare, there are the occasional male hermaphrodites which self-pollinate and produce berries.

In the majority of cases, though, males do not produce berries.

Ferns laden with berries can tend to break or bend to the ground, and contact with the wet soil below can introduce fungal growth.

Before berries mature, some gardeners will dig up and remove female plants, crowns and all, and remove them from their beds.

In addition to acting as a measure that can prevent the spread of fungal diseases that may harm the health of your plants, there are other reasons why this may be a good idea.

I’ll cover these in the following sections.

Volunteers

Next on our list of differences, we have the issue of volunteers – also known as weeds, depending on your perspective.

When your plant has berries, the possibility of babies sprouting from the seeds they contain exists, whether you want them or not. Each berry typically contains one to six seeds.

Young asparagus spears growing in the garden showing the bright green stalks and slightly darker heads, with a garden scene in soft focus in the background.

Many gardeners see these unplanned seedlings that pop up in the asparagus bed (or other parts of the garden – thanks, birds!) as a nuisance, since volunteers can take nutrients away from your established crop and crowd the bed.

A close up top down picture of asparagus spears growing amongst bright green, fern-like foliage in bright sunshine, fading to soft focus in the background.

While volunteers can sometimes be seen as a good thing, an easy way to get free seedlings that you don’t have to worry about starting yourself, asparagus usually lives for 15 to 20 years.

With an established crop, you already have a long term investment that you may not need to renew very often.

Males do not generally produce berries, so they do not generally produce volunteers.

Yield

Since males do not have to expend valuable energy on berry production, they are often more long-lived, and they are able to put more of their energy into spear production.

A vertical picture of asparagus spears growing out of rich soil in bright sunshine, fading to soft focus in the background.

Among commercial growers of this crop, they are considered more profitable than females because of their higher yields.

All-male hybrids, which are hybrids selected to eliminate most female plants, are even more productive.

A close up of freshly harvested asparagus spears in various shades of purple and green, in a wicker basket, set in the garden amongst those that are still growing in the ground.

And all-male asparagus crowns are often more expensive as well.

Increases in productivity with these hybrids are extreme, allowing for three times the average yield of heirloom cultivars.

A close up of bright green asparagus spears fading to soft focus in the background.

You can read more about these all-male hybrids in our asparagus growing guide.

Spear Size

Not only do all-male hybrids produce more spears, they produce larger ones.

A close up of asparagus spears starting to push through the ground surrounded by green fern-like foliage in bright sunshine fading to soft focus in the background.

And these larger-sized spears are typically more desirable.

According to Jack Rabin, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University, “The larger diameter spears have superior culinary qualities of tenderness and sweetness.”

A vertical picture of asparagus spears growing in the garden surrounded by dark rich soil, with a wooden fence in soft focus in the background.

Male plants often produce spears earlier in the season than females as well.

Spearhead an All-Male Bed

Some gardeners swear by store-bought all-male asparagus crowns for planting, while others love starting plants from seed, and saving their own seeds to grow yet more plants.

Now that you’ve had a crash course in (plant) gender inequality, you know that male asparagus plants are the ones you want for more abundant harvests, occasional or nonexistent berries, and no volunteers.

If you want to save your own seed, having both male and female asparagus plants is a necessity.

A close up of a wicker basket containing a fresh harvest of asparagus spears set on a lawn with a knife beside them.

After learning to differentiate male from female asparagus plants, will you let the ladies stay in your garden? Or will you turn it into a boys club? Let us know in the comments.

Ready to learn more about growing asparagus? Check out some more of our detailed guides such as:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on February 17, 2020. Last updated: September 5, 2020 at 8:36 am. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.

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Carrie Peterson
Carrie Peterson (@guest_6363)
7 months ago

Thanks for the clear and illustrated info. I think I have all of the above in my bed I just didn’t know the difference. Now to read about what to do with the volunteers.

John Notte
John Notte (@guest_6899)
6 months ago

Very helpful! Thanks! I can’t wait to give them a closer look. Another question, over the summer, when the asparagus grows tall and ferny, they want to bend down under their own weight, and especially in the wind. Should I let them go down? Or should I string them up?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  John Notte
6 months ago

Yes, it’s fine to let them bend, and many gardeners do. Falling is a natural process – it’s how they reseed – but unfortunately this can have a kind of unattractive appearance. I suppose you could tie them up, if you want to go to the trouble! Whatever you do, wait to cut the fronds until they die back in the fall, or in late winter before new spring growth emerges.

Heather Rowan
Heather Rowan (@guest_7553)
6 months ago

I’ve always found the young, skinny spears to be the most tender. But in the article it says: “The larger diameter spears have superior culinary qualities of tenderness and sweetness.” I’m not sure about that. I’ve been growing asparagus for about 20 years and I plant by berries every year to replenish my supply. My question is, how old does a plant have to be before it starts producing berries? My young ferns (2-4 years old) have yet to produce flowers. Thank you for the info. Heather

Lesley Marcotte
Lesley Marcotte (@guest_8585)
4 months ago

I recently planted asparagus from seed. I have 30 plants that have sprouted in separate pots inside and I also planted the remainder of my seed package directly in my garden. They all seem to be coming up. Can I plant them all together in the same garden and remove the female plants next year. The garden would be rather crowded. I’m assuming that I won’t be able to differentiate the males from the females until next year. I don’t want to thin them all out now and end up with mainly female plants.

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R.A.
R.A. (@guest_9889)
2 months ago

Is there a way to differentiate the seed from the berry as male or female before planting?