The Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) is an old-fashioned, tough, leathery foliage house plant. It is an ideal houseplant for cooler areas of your house bringing the tropics indoors.
In fact, the Aspidistra was a favorite indoor plant along with the Kentia palm during the Victorian era when houses were anything but bright and airy.
Today, in the Southern United States like Louisiana, you will find Aspidistra growing completely carefree as a ground cover in dense, deep shade.
The Aspidistra genus (Asparagaceae) is made of up about 100 species with over 60 originating in China. Kew Gardens list 1823, as the year of the first recorded Aspidistra but the genus was named Aspidistra by John Ker Gawler in 1822.
The most popularly grown species is Aspidistra elatior, native to the Eastern Himalayas, Taiwan, China, and Japan and the plant we commonly call the “cast-iron plant” or “iron plant”.
The cast iron is one of the few plants we can say helped inspire or carry the lead in a novel.
In 1936, George Orwell wrote his novel “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.”
In World War II, “Winston Churchill authorized the purchase of an extremely powerful radio transmitter from the United States under the codename “Aspidistra” borrowed from the popular song ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’.” [source]
Patience is the prime requirement needed by owners of small cast iron plants; it takes considerable time to grow an Aspidistra to specimen size.
Ironically, like many “folk” plants, it is not always available in nurseries. This is partly because of its slow growth and not properly appreciated.
Cast-iron is usually grown in 6″, 8″; and 10″ inch azalea pots. As a bushy potted plant, 12 to 24 inches tall and wide, the Aspidistra simply has no equal and is a perfect plant for indoor use like in a bathroom.
Aspidistra is an ideal plant for that cooler area of your house to bring the tropics indoors.
Aspidistra Will Also…
- Tolerate dust as well as heat, cold, wet soil, drought, neglect and dimly lighted places.
- Tolerate temperatures as low as 28° degrees Fahrenheit without injury to the foliage. (more on cold tolerant houseplants)
- Tolerate light levels as low as 10 foot candles
- Make a great addition to cut flower arrangements; the foliage often lasts for weeks.
- Generally Pest Free – if you have problems try these solutions!
Aspidistra elatior has cornlike, shiny, dark green leaves that grow to 24 inches long; it occasionally produces purple-brown small flowers near the base of the plant.
It also has a variegated form like the image below. The white markings help to light up a dark corner rather like sun filtering through a shade tree.
A dwarf form called Aspidistra minor or Aspidistra “Milky Way” has white spotted black-green leaves. Try to acquire all three (there are many more species), then display them in attractive decorative pottery or containers.
Aspidistra is such a slow grower and is expensive to produce and purchase. But with all of its positive attributes, it is well be worth the price, offering long-term enjoyment and beauty.
Unusual Aspidistra Cast Iron Flower
Aspidistra elatior was popular as a foliage plant in Victorian times, their ability to survive under adverse conditions and their remarkable ability to withstand abuse and neglect.
It’s been said, “the Aspidistra was immune to the effects of gas used for lighting in the Victorian era (other plants and flowers withered or yellowed), which might account for its popularity.” [source]
Today, their tough and resilient characteristics allow them to endure indoor conditions of today’s modern homes and offices. Although they maintain and “evergreen leaf” all year, this ovate glossy-leaved plant occasionally bears flowers and fruits just beneath the soil line.
Video: Aspidistra Care Instructions
In this video, Kevin talks about caring for cast iron plants, watering, lighting, fertilizing and grooming.
Cast Iron Plant Care And Cultural Tips:
It gets its name Cast Iron from its ability to tolerate poor conditions both inside or out. It is easy to grow and requires little care.
Indoors, Aglaonemas, the durable “Zanzibar Gem” (ZZ plant), and snake plants are possibly the only other plants capable of handling these conditions. Low light, drafts and general neglect in watering and dust accumulation.
However, you can find many types of indoor houseplants to fit your conditions and environment.
Origin: Distribution China and Southern Japan
The Aspidistra plant has long, dark green 15 – 30” inch leaves, 3 – 4” inches wide producing an arching effect reaching a height of 3 feet tall.
The green leaves grow upward in clusters from thick, fleshy root stalks at the base.
The small globular flowers with a violet-brown color (in a perianth) grow at soil level.
Lighting and Temperature
It is much more attractive with proper care and will tolerate a wide range of temperatures.
It prefers temperatures between 50°-55° degrees Fahrenheit at night and 70°-75° degrees Fahrenheit during the day with light levels between 50 and 500-foot candles.
In The Landscape: It is recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 11. Does best when shaded from direct sun. The cast iron plant handles temperature extremes from 45° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit very well, and temperatures do not seem to affect plant growth.
As a House Plant: Bright light from a north window is best. If growing under artificial light, the plant will do well with 150-foot candles.
Soil and Potting Medium
In The Landscape: Outside, plant Aspidistra in a good quality well-drained garden soil with decayed manure and up to 1/3 part peat or humus added.
NOTE: I have personally seen beds of cast iron plants do very well in poor soil.
As a Potted Plant use a good quality well-drained soil mix like those made for African Violets or make your own with one part all-purpose loam, one part peat moss, one part perlite or vermiculite.
The plant does well when pot-bound and needs repotting every two to three years. Repot in early spring before new growth begins.
Do not allow the root system to stay wet and soggy. However, keep the soil moist at all times.
Evenly moist but not constantly wet is the ideal way to water this plant, although it will survive forgotten waterings. Aspidistra does handle dry air and low humidity but does best with some air moisture.
As a slow grower, do not over feed. At high light levels fertilizing once per month at 1/2 strength with a liquid food or apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in the spring before growth begins.
Under low light conditions, liquid feed every 3 to 4 months.
Stop feeding during the cold winter months.
Propagate a new plant by root division. When dividing, cut each division into two to three leaves. Make new plants by planting multiple divisions together in a large growing pot.
Pest, Disease and Physical Issues
Check out these posts for spider mites and scale insects on plants.
Cracked leaves from bruising: Usually caused by people brushing up against the plant. Move the plant to a new location where will not run into it.
Yellowing of leaves: Usually caused by exposure to strong lighting.
Move this shade loving plant to a location where it will receive filtered shade. Do not allow plants to sit in direct sun.
White variegation turns to solid green. Loss of variegation happens when:
- Soil is too rich – stop feeding especially during winter
- Soil does not properly drain – make sure water does not sit in the bottom of the pot, and the drainage holes are not covered.
- The plant receives too little light – This shade lover does not like darkness. Move the plant to a brighter location or closer to an artificial light source.
Leaves become damp and blistered with yellow, white, black or brown spots. This condition comes from a bacterial or fungal disease commonly called leaf-spot disease. The cause is poor air circulation, overwatering, high humidity, low light or chilling.
In very severe cases the cast iron will lose all foliage. Increase ventilation, light, and temperature to help dry out the soil. Remove infected areas, spray with an approved fungicide and DO NOT water. Resume regular care after plant recovers.
The Family Of Aspidistra Species Grows
The genus has been ignored until about the 1980’s. Since then many new Aspidistra plant species have been recognized.
Full List Of Aspidistra Species
Below is a list of 169 Aspidistra species and varieties recognized by The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Kew as of September 10, 2017.