Eaten as a vegetable, Asparagus officinalis has been widely cultivated for its young shoots since ancient Greek times. The species is naturalized in many temperate climates. Mature asparagus has caused poisoning in cattle (J. M. Kingsbury 1964). Young plants can cause dermatitis, and the red berries are suspected of poisoning humans (E. M. Schmutz and L. B. Hamilton 1979). The species is dioecious (J. E. Lazarte and B. F. Palser 1979), and homomorphic sex chromosomes have been identified (H. Loptien 1979).
The genus includes a variety of living forms, occurring from rainforest to semi-desert habitats; many are climbing plants. The differences among them came from the communities and ecosystems in which they occur, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that keep them functioning, yet ever changing and adapting. Most are dispersed by birds.
Many species, particularly from Africa, were once included in separate genera such as Protasparagus and Myrsiphyllum. However, partly in response to the implications of the discovery of new species, those genera have been reunited under Asparagus. Species in this genus vary in their appearance, from unarmed herbs to wiry, woody climbers with formidable hooked spines that earn them vernacular names such as "cat thorn" and "wag 'n bietjie" (literally "wait a bit"). Most species have photosynthetic flattened stems, called phylloclades, instead of true leaves. Asparagus officinalis, Asparagus schoberioides, and Asparagus cochinchinensis are dioecious species, with male and female flowers on separate plants.
^Chase, M.W.; Reveal, J.L. & Fay, M.F. (2009), "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161 (2): 132–136, doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x
^ Malcomber, S. T. Demissew, Sebsebe; "The Status of Protasparagus and Myrsiphyllum in the Asparagaceae", Kew Bulletin Vol. 48, No. 1 (1993), pp. 63-78
^ Marloth, Rudolf. “The Flora of South Africa” 1932 Pub. Capetown: Darter Bros. London: Wheldon & Wesley.
Wild Asparagus is a common plant that occurs in most counties of Illinois (see Distribution Map). Official records probably underestimate its distribution. Habitats include mesic black soil prairies, grassy meadows, thickets, fence rows, areas underneath utility lines, abandoned fields, vacant lots, areas along railroads and roadsides, and waste areas. The preference is disturbed areas, although it can invade high quality natural areas to some extent. Asparagus has been cultivated as a vegetable since antiquity and is native to Eurasia. It is still popular as a vegetable today.