Asphodeline lutea is an easy to grow perennial that has great architectural form. The overall impression is distinctly upright, so it is good for adding vertical interest to the garden. This handsome plant which can be grown in full sun or partial shade has blue-green grass-like leaves and fragrant yellow flowers in late spring.
In spring, Asphodeline lutea forms attractive bluish-green clumps of long narrow foliage that spread to around 30cm (12in) wide and the same tall. In early summer leafy stems arise that bear dense, unbranched cylindrical spikes of gorgeous yellow, star-shaped flowers. The flower stems grow to around 90cm (36in) tall in a dry garden but in a more benign spot they will be taller, to around 120cm (48in).
The sweetly scented flowers are edible, very decorative and tasty addition to the salad bowl. They give way to decorative seed pods like shiny green marbles which can be left on the plant through winter to add interest. The stems with flowers or fruits are valued for cut and dried arrangements.
Best in groups or massed, Asphodeline lutea is easy and low maintenance, the plants are hardy to minus 15°C (-5°F) and thrive in well-drained, organic soil in a sunny location. They are wind resistant and drought tolerant and can tolerate maritime exposure.
Perfect for incorporating into borders, gravel gardens, naturalistic or meadow style planting schemes. Butterflies and bees are attracted to its nectar-rich blossoms.
Sowing: Sow seeds at any time
Seeds can be sown at any time into deep pots containing well-draining compost. Sow in the surface and cover with 5mm (¼in) of compost or grit. Keeping the seed pot in a cool, well-lit spot outdoors. Germination usually takes place in 1 to 3 months at 15°C (60°F). Artificial heat is not needed and will sometimes actually prevent germination patience may be required. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in the cool greenhouse for their first winter. Water in dry weather and plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring.
Asphodeline lutea prefer a position with well-drained, sandy soil. The plants dislike wet ground, particularly during winter. Improve heavy soil conditions by adding coarse grit or sharp sand prior to planting.
Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits but slugs and snails are partial to its new shoots so take suitable measures against them.
The plant has an unusual growth pattern. It comes into growth in the autumn and grows happily through the winter. Cold weather slows it down but doesn’t seem to stop it. It then flowers in late May to July going dormant for a period in the heat of late summer. After flowering the plants may need to be deadheaded for tidiness and to promote stronger growth.
Divide large plants every two to three years in August to September, making sure each division has two or three growing points. Large divisions can be planted out straight into their permanent positions, smaller ones are best potted up until they are growing away strongly and can then be planted out.
In autumn in very cold areas protect the plants with a dry winter mulch.
Borders, Dry and gravel gardens, Prairie and meadow style planting schemes.
- Flowers - raw. A delightful sweetness, they are a very decorative and tasty addition to the salad bowl but should be used as soon as possible after harvesting because they do not last. The flowers are best picked in the late afternoon - thus you can enjoy them visually during the day and gastronomically in the evening. They lend themselves well to regular picking for salads as new flowers are opened the next day and little is lost decoratively.
- Root - roasted. This food was highly valued by the ancient Greeks, who roasted the roots like potatoes and ate them with salt and oil or mashed them with figs. The roots are not very thick but are abundantly produced and have a nice nutty flavour. They can be harvested at any time of the year, but are best used when the plant is dormant in late summer and early autumn. They do not store well and should be used within a few weeks of harvest.
- Young shoots - cooked. They smell less than pleasant whilst cooking but have a fairly bland flavour. Some people find that they have a very pleasant flavour. The plant comes into growth in late summer and the autumn, the young shoots can be harvested in moderation all through the winter.
Leaves - cooked. The leaf bundles can be harvested during the growing season. The tougher ends of the leaves are trimmed off and they are boiled, rather like leeks. The flavour is mild and pleasant and they make a welcome winter vegetable.
Asphodeline lutea is native to Austria, Italy and the eastern Mediterranean, where they flourish in sunny, dry meadows.
It is in the family Asphodeloideae, it is a subfamily of the monocot family Xanthorrhoeaceae in the order Asparagales. The Asphodelaceae has previously been treated as a separate family. The subfamily name is derived from the generic name of the type genus, Asphodelus. The genera Aloe, Asphodelus, and Kniphofia are perhaps the best known in this genus.
Asphodeline lutea was introduced into the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1648, even though it demonstrated no known uses that are typical of a physic garden (plants grown for medicinal use). It may have been grown because of its curiosity value, however: as the species was introduced from the Eastern Mediterranean it would not have been well-recognised in 1648. Certainly, this explanation is more plausible than justifying its cultivation by way of its healing properties.
Neither the herbalist John Gerard nor the apothecary John Parkinson – both of whom had considerable knowledge about medicinal plants, could think of any use for it, Parkinson saying it was “not... used in Physicke for any purpose” and Gerard that “it is not yet found out what use there is of any of them in nourishment or medicines”.
Intriguingly, however, Parkinson cites a report from a Dr. Anthony Salver of Exeter who had asked the local people about its uses and had found “no... propertie appropriate unto it but knavery”. Quite what this alleged ‘knavery’ was, though, we will never know, Parkinson declined to go into any further details.
Pronounced as-fah-DEL-in-ee LOO-tee-uh, Asphodeline lutea was formerly called Asphodelus lutea.
The ancient Greek name for this plant is asphódelos, from the Latin asphodelus.
The species name lutea means yellow and refers to the flower colour. The word derives from a source of yellow dye called lutum.
Common names include Jacob’s rod, King's spear, Yellow Candles, Yellow asphodel and Asphodel.
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 20 seeds Family Asphodelaceae Genus Asphodeline Species lutea Synonym Asphodelus luteus Common Name King's Spear, Yellow Jacob's Rod Other Common Names Yellow Candles, Yellow Asphodel Other Language Names IT: Asfodelo giallo, GR: Affodill Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy -15°C (-5°F) Natural Flower Time May to July Height 90 to 120cm (36 to 48in) Spread 30cm (12in)