What is Asphodelus?

Alex Tree

Asphodelus, a genus that consists primarily of tall perennials belonging to the family Asphodelaceae, is found around the world but is native to the central, western, and southern parts of the European continent. The plants under this genus are monocotyledonous, consisting of mostly herbs with compound pistils, petaloid sepals, and petals. Asphodelus plants thrive with plenty of natural light and well-drained soil. They can spread to 1.5 feet (0.45 m) and grow up to 3 feet (0.9 m) in height.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

In the later part of spring or early summer, Asphodelus plants produce small, star-shaped flowers on thick-stemmed racemes. A spike of light yellow or white flowers is supported by an elongated stem. The clumps of medium green leaves are linear and flattened and can develop to a maximum length of 2 feet (0.6 m).

The leaves of Asphodelus plants are popularly used as wrapping for a type of Italian cheese locally known as burrata. Both the cheese and the leaves can last a maximum of four days. Therefore, fresh leaves are considered a sign of fresh cheese. When the leaves are dried out, it means the cheese is no longer safe for human consumption.

Propagation of Asphodelus species as garden plants can be done in the fall season by sowing the seeds in a sandy type of soil. They can also be propagated by dividing and replanting the existing growths in the spring. During the plants’ first winter, pots can be used to place them in a sunny and sheltered spot to encourage their ideal growth.

Asphodelus ramosus is considered one of the earliest species recorded in history, with a detailed description written by Hesiod dating back to the 18th century BC. It is the flower that is believed to occupy the plains of Hades, the underworld in Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks used to plant it in close proximity to graves because they believed that it is the food most desired by the dead. This plant is also regarded as sacred to Persephone, who is the underworld’s queen in Greek mythology.

In history, the poorer Greeks ate the roots of the asphodels. The food was considered good enough only for the lower members of society. These plants were also believed to be a species in opposition to sorcery and were used as a cure for venomous snake bites. Pigs were thought to be preserved from disease by using Asphodelus plants. The nomads in Libya used asphodel stalks as a material for making their huts.

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