by Stephen Mifsud
   24 Jan 2020      ()
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Asphodelus aestivus   (Summer Asphodel)

Asphodelus aestivus   (XANTHORRHOEACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
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Profile Date Mar-2004 (last update: 12-Jan-2019)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (Mar-2004) Asphodelus aestivus retrieved from on 2020-Jan-24


Species name :

Asphodelus aestivus  Brotero

Name Derivation :

Felix de (Silva) Avellar Brotero, Portugal, 1744-1828

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: Asphodelus microcarpus
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Xanthorrhoeaceae  Dumortier
(Grass Tree Family)

English name(s) :

Summer Asphodel, Common Asphodel, Tall Asphodel

Maltese name(s) :


Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Asphodelus = the asphodel, a lily like plant with "eaten" roots, since the plant does not have much roots. (Greek)
aestivus = of or related to Summer because it flowers in middle of Summer after the leaves have been withered for few months (Latin)

Remarks :


Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Erect but without a true aerial stem :

Erect flower stalk(s) and leaves grow directly from the true underground stem such as rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs.

Single, branched scape :

Plant forms a single, leafless flowering stalk (=scape) that is branched. Each branch produce inflorescenses. Often found growing from underground tubers, bulbs or corms.

Glabrous :

Smooth; without any hairs, bristles or other projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Basal Rosette :

A cluster of leaves in a circular arrangement at the base of the plant. Upper leaves are more erect and wrap around the flowering stalk as a sheath.

Sessile from an underground stem :

Growing directly from an underground stem (bulb, rhizome, tuber, etc.) without a stalk.

Parallel venation :

Veins running from the base parallel to the leaf longitudinal axis.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Ensiform :

Sword-shaped, long, flat and gradually tapering to a pointed tip.

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals



(...with a central, longitudinal orange-brown strip.

Stellate :

A flower with non overlapping petals arising separately from a central point and hence forming a shape of a star.


To be botanically precise, the flower has 3 sepals (outer whorl) and 3 petals (inner whorl) which are identical, and so they are collectively referred to as 6 tepals or perianth segments.



  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Panicle :

Elongate inflorescence with compound branching forming clusters of flowers.

The flower consists of 6 elongated, wax-white petals, 6 conspicuously long, anthers composed of a white firm filament and an orange anther, 1 white, central style + stigma (little longer than the stamens) and a central and superior ovary which is enclosed by a an orange/salmon cap.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

#, Antipetalous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



Mild, sweet. honey-like fragrance which may be missed in the open air.

35 mm

Bright Orange




No. Per Fruit






(maximum capacity).


5mm x 3mm

(L x W).

Black with tiny white specs


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Dehiscent Loculicidal Capsule :

A fruit capsule that splits open longitudinally into the cavity of the locule when the seeds are ripe.


Initially it is yellow/brown but turns green on maturation and straw-yellow when fully ripe.

Tuber :

A type of root with the special advantage of being able to form swellings or rounded knobs used to store food.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

GEOPHYTE (bearing underground bulbs, rhizomes, stolons, etc.)


Garigue, Cliff tops, Steppes. Prefers semi-arid places with shallow soil such as rocky places.


Very Common

Localities in Malta:

Very Common. Found throughout Maltese garigues such as in Dingli, Mtahleb, Ghajn Tuffieha, Mellieha, Delimara, Mistra and Ta' Cenc just to mention a few examples.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Not Poisonous.

This monocot is a tough perennial which grows from underground tubers that lack extensive rooting. It withstand wind, cold, dryness and poor nutrient soil, and therefore, one of its preferred habitats are rocky cliff tops, steppe and garigues.

The plant have several long basal leaves which grow randomly from the underground tuber outwards. The grey-green leaves are sword shaped - 35-45cm long and only 3 cm wide - with their smooth edges tapering gradually to a pointed but not spiny tip. The cross section of the leaf is V shaped, with a slightly bulging midrib at the underside. In mid winter, an erect flowering stem starts growing from the center of the leaf outgrowths and this flowers in late Winter. The stem may reach up to 150cm in height or remain low at about 50cm, depending environmental conditions. The flowering stem is glabrous, and produce branched flower clusters in panicles, hence forming a pyramidal form of inflorescence. The cluster is loosely branched at the lower end and gradually gets simpler toward the upper end.

Flowers are held to the branched flowering stalks by 10mm long pedicels. In every cluster, the bottom flower opens first and slowly the flowers above blooms one by one. Every single flower remains in bloom for several days. The flower buds are made from the petals itself, since they do not have any true sepals. Buds are white with reddish-brown vertical stripes.

When the buds open up, the produce a flower with 6 wax-white, slightly elongated petals that have a central reddish-brown mid-vein. The most noticable part is however the 6 stamens which rise firmly up to about 18mm. Each stamen has a white erect filament and a brown anther covered with bright orange pollen. The central and single style+stigma is slightly longer than the anther, at about 20mm length. Flower measures up to 32-40mm accross and about 30mm in length from the base to the stigma.

The flower give the false impression that the colour of the ovary is salmon coloured. Actually, the inferior ovary is green but it is enclosed by a pale orange to salmon colored cap which is formed by 6 flaps, each coming from the base of every stamen. The ovaries form into the fruit being a green dehiscent capsule, the size of a pea (7mm c.) and splits open into 3 parts when the seeds are ripe at the end of May. The spear-head shaped seeds are black with tiny, white specs, 5mm x 3mm in size and maximum of 6 seeds per fruit capsule.

Information, uses and other details

Nativity and Distribution

This plant is native to Africa and most of the Mediterranean coasts which include [WWW-26] :
  • Spain +Canary Islands
  • Northern Africa: Algeria ; Egypt; Libya; Morocco
  • Western Asia: Cyprus; Egypt - Sinai; Iraq; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Syria; Turkey
  • Southeastern Europe: Albania; Greece (incl. Crete) ; Italy (incl. Sardinia, Sicily)
  • Southwestern Europe: France (incl. Corsica} ; Portugal; Spain (incl. Baleares)

Derivation of the Genus name - Asphodelus

According to an Italian site [WWW-47] Asphodelus comes from a composite Greek world as indicated below:

a = non;
spodos = ashes;
edos = valley;
So it means a valley of the remainings that has not been destroyed to ashes by fire. The name is associated with the fact that this plant's underground tubers are somehow not much harmed by accidental fire, and so, these resistant tubers will quickly forms back the plant in life. So after some time, what remains after a fire are these surviving asphodelus plants.

Another reference [WWW-03] have a completely different version, but also Greek in origin. The ancients planted the flowers near tombs, regarding them as the form of food preferred by the dead, and many poems refer to this custom. The name is derived from a Greek word meaning sceptre.


Germination from seed usually takes place in 1 - 3 months at 15�C [134] . When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. When the plants are large enough to handle, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in early spring or autumn [111] .

Cultivation details

Succeeds in ordinary garden soil, tolerating partial shade [200] . Requires a well-drained soil [1, 200] . Prefers a deep, rich in sand, loamy soil [1, 111] , in a sunny position and a soil that is not too rich in nutrients [200] . Grows well on hot dry banks [42] .

This species is not hardy in the colder areas of the country, it tolerates temperatures down to between -5 and -10�C [200] .

Plants are evergreen in mild winters [200] .

Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits [233] .

Edible Uses

The Root (tuber); Seeds and Stem are been reported to be eaten in the past.

The Tuber can be eaten cooked [4] . It is rich in starch [89, 177] . If dried and boiled in water it yields a mucilaginous matter which can be mixed with grain to make a nutritious bread [4, 105] . Boiling destroys the acrid principle in the tubers [4] , rendering them quite pleasant to eat [KF] .

The flowering stalk can also be cooked and eaten [89, 148] .

Seeds can be eaten roasted [89, 148] .

It was also reported that the leaves have been used in the production of a type of cheese specifically in "Rignano Garganico" in Italy [WWW-47]

Medicinal Uses

The root, gathered at the end of its first year, is acrid, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenagogue [4] . The bruised root has been recommended for rapidly dissolving scrofulous swellings. [WWW-03] It was used in the treatment of several diseases by the Greeks and Romans, but is not employed in modern medicine [4] .

Acrid Sharp and harsh, or bitter to the taste; pungent; causing heat and irritation. [WWW-32]
Antispasmodic Used to relieve or prevent spasms (especially of the smooth muscles)   [WWW-32]
Diuretic Tends to increase the flow of urine   [WWW-32]
Emmenagogue Promotes the menstrual discharge in women.   [WWW-32]

Another medicinal use not any more administered nowadays was for treating dermatitis and sun burns. An extract was obtained from the first tubers gathered in the dry months of late Summer. A decoction of 5 gr in 100 ml water was applied with the use of handkerchiefs to the effected area on the skin. [WWW-47]

Other Uses

In Persia, glue is made with the bulbs, which are first dried and then pulverized. When mixed with cold water, the powder swells and forms a strong glue. [4] that is used by bookmakers and shoemakers [61, 89, 148] .

A yellow dye is obtained from the tuber [46, 61] .

Significance of Asphodelus

The presence of the Asphodel is often a sign of overgrazed ground since the plant is not usually eaten by animals. [274] It is also an indication of poor nutrient soil, since it is one of the few plants prefers un-rich soil. Furthermore to this it can serve as a sign of environmental or ambient degradation, since the soil is getting less in quantity and nutrients. [WWW-47] In fact one can hardly find Asphrodel where there is plenty of vegetation or trees around [SM] As discussed previously, it also indicate that there was a fire in the surrounding area since the underground tubers resist such an incidence [WWW-47] .

Personal Observations

Common names
Several English/common names for this speciesare give, mainly the following :- Common Asphodel, Turkey Asphodel, Branched Asphodel, and Tall Asphodel are some examples.

More detailed botanical information about the tepals
Generally the species of the Asphodelaceae and also those of the parent family Liliaceae are described to have 6 petals and no sepals. This will suit the description very well because that what appears to be. However the exact data would be that the flowers have 3 sepals and 3 petals, that are nearly identical in shape, colour and location. For example in this particular species, if one would examine carefully the flower, one should note that three petals are slightly more broad than the other 3 in an alternate way. These larger petals are the 'sepals'. However in practical botanical description, it is not wrong to describe that Lily flowers have 6 petals. A better approach would be to say it has 6 tepals instead of just petals; [SM] tepal = A perianth segment in a flower in which all the perianth segments are similar in appearance. [WWW-32]

The other similar Asphodelus species in Malta
Another Asphodelus species is found on the Maltese islands, especially in Gozo. This is the A. fistulosus (Onion Weed) which have some similarities with the A. aestivus at a glance. The A. fistulosus is a shorter, unbranched plant, but with quite similar flowers. As noted by other local writers about the flora of Malta [300] , A. fistulosus is also quite rare to find [SM]

Below is a table which compares some facts and important botanical aspects between the two Asphodelus species that are found in Malta, thus the A. fistulosus and the A. aestivus. [SM]
Feature Asphodelus aestivus Asphodelus fistulosus
Occurence in Malta Common Rare
Length 150cm c. 50cm c.
Shape and length of Leaves Ensiform, 45cm Linear, 25cm
Branching at the flower stalk Many branches and subbranches (Panicle) Often unbranched (Raceme)
Flower shape White with a red/brown central stripe at every petal White with a red/brown central stripe at every petal
Stamens 6, Erect, 25mm long, 6, Drooping, stubby, 10mm long
Anther colour Bright Orange Brown
Stigma Simple, white Divided into 3 inflated structures, pink
Fruit Orange-Brown, pea sized capsules Orange-Brown, pea sized capsules

Photo Gallery   (31 Images)

Close up photo of flower in situ.
Photo of flower in situ, composed of 6 white tepals with a central reddish brown stripe (mid-vein).
Photo of flower and its conspicuous 6 firm stamens with orange anthers and a central style.
Close up photo of flower in early April.
Photo of flower at an angle to show better the long stamens.
Multi branched panicle forming pyramidical clusters of flowers. The lower flowers are the one to open first, and gradually, the ones above open up.
Scanned image of a flower dissected transversely. Note the flap like structure making the salmon/orange covering shell around the green, inferior, central ovary.
Flower with the stamens and style dissected out. Note the green ovary partially covered by a salmon/orange covering.
Scanned image of dissected petals. Note that some petals are more broad. Every flower have 3 broad and 3 normal petals arranged alternately.
Close up photo of stamens in situ. Not many flowers have orange pollen.
Magnified scanned image of the anthers producing large amounts of orange pollen.
Dissection of one stamen. Note the salmon/orange flap at the base of the stamens' filament.
Photo of plant (lateral view) in situ showing the long stamens and white style with slightly swollen stigma.
Scanned image of a bud - bullet shaped, and white coloured with vertical reddish-brown stripes.
Photo of the numerous, underground root tubers of the plant.
Photo of plant or proably 2 plants growing very near to each other since normally, there is only one flowering stalk per plant. (Dingli, March-2005).
Photo of a young plant consisting of a rosette of basal, sword shaped leaves.
Photo of adult plant, with plenty of basal, sword-like leaves and a tall flowering stem.
Photo of plant growin in a soily habitat at Ghajn Tuffieha.
Habitat of plant, rocky cliff tops with little soil.
Photo of many flowering plants on the garigue of Siggiewi (beside Ghar Lapsi) taken on April 2005.
Photo of an adult plant (Mar 2005).
Photo of several plants on the garigue of Qrendi, (beside Hagar Qim) taken on April 2005 with the islet of Filfla at the background.
Photo of the flowering plant aginst the background of the blue Mediterrenean Sea.
Photo of fruit in situ - green, globular/ovoid capsules.
Photo of several casules arranged alternately along flower stalk.
Scanned image of fruit - hairless, green capsules, ovoid-spherical in shape and an average size of 10mm x 7mm. With maturation, the colour start getting yellow and then brown.
Transverse section through fruit showing 6 whitish seeds being developed.
Scanned image of mature seed capsules split open into 3 parts to release their black seeds (maximum of 6 seeds per capsule).
Scanned image of black seeds with several tiny, white specs.
Photo of a garigue in Dingli with many Asphodelus aestivus plants (Mar 2005).

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