A member of the lily family, there are more than 300 species found worldwide. The best known species is garden asparagus or Asparagus officinalis, which is cultivated as a green vegetable and prized for its succulent stalks. As a commercial crop, it is grown extensively in France, Italy and North America.
In the wild, asparagus comes in many shapes and sizes. It can grow in bunches of thirty stalks, form a small family of three or four plants, or appear as a solo artist. Depending on the weather, and on the soil conditions, the stalk can be as thin as a pencil or fatter than a thumb. Whether in bunches or alone, asparagus is one of nature's best springtime treats.
How do you find wild asparagus? The old-fashioned way: you walk for it. Locate last year's plants that didn't become someone's lunch; plants that flowered last summer, died in the fall and have left browned-out versions of their former selves. Use them as markers for where next year's crop can be found. Note that in the fall, asparagus plants produce a preponderance of red berries as seeds.
Once you find asparagus, pick it (or cut it with a knife) -- grasp the plant near the top and slide your hand down the length of the stalk. Bending it slightly, break it off at the point where the stalk loses its flexibility. Below that point the plant will prove tougher, and therefore less tender to eat.
Some other things to consider when picking asparagus: Wear long pants and hiking boots because poison ivy grows in similar locales.
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