A native of Europe, but introduced to the United States as an edible crop. It tends to escape cultivation and can be found throughout the United States and into Latin America, as well as much of southern Canada.
A perennial plant that favors saline soils, where it can be found along roadsides, in ditchbanks, and on other disturbed sites. It also becomes a troublesome weed in orchards and vineyards. The thick rootstock gives rise to the stout young stems which are edible, although there can be a toxic quality to other plant parts, including the berries. Reproduction is from seeds, and the plants also can spread by their lateral roots.
New growth is characterized by a thick, stout stem rising from the soil, with reddish, scale-like tips. If they are not harvested at this point, by the time they are about 6 to 10 inches long, they begin to sprout thin branches from the axils of the scales. These branch a number of times to produce an open, thin stemmed plant up to 7 feet tall. The leaves are simple scale-like formations at the bases and junction of the branches. Small, inconspicuous flowers occur singly at the nodes as small, yellow, bell-shaped flowers. The fruit is a small round berry that turns red as it matures.
Characteristicts Important to Control:
The plants may be physically removed if the rootstock is completely excavated from the soil. Early in the growth a systemic herbicide may be effective in killing the entire plant and its underground parts. The foliage dies back in the winter, and new spears appear in the spring.