Cast Iron Plant Care Guide: Aspidistra Elatior

The Cast Iron Plant is the common name for Aspidistra elatior [ass-pi-DIS-truh] [ee-LAY-tee-or]The Aspidistra is an old-fashioned, tough, house plant with leathery dark green leaves. Aspidistras are ideal indoor plants for cooler areas of your home to bring the tropics indoors.

Cast-Iron plants were a favorite indoor plant along with the Howea Kentia palm during the Victorian era when houses were anything but bright and airy.

Aspidistra elatior aka cast iron plant potted at front entryPin
Potted Aspidistra elatior with dark green foliage is a hardy plant. Used as a ground cover in the southern US. Does best when plants are not exposed to direct sunlight.

The perennial Cast Iron Plant is a sturdy, low-growing plant native to the deep forests of Asian countries of Japan and Taiwan. It is part of the Asparagaceae family. About 100 species make up the Aspidistra genus, with over 60 originating in China.

Common names for the herbaceous Cast Iron plant include:

  • Common Aspidistra
  • Bar Room plant
  • Barroom plant
  • Iron plant

Why Growing Cast Iron Plant Was Popular 150+ Years Ago

As you can guess from its name, the Cast Iron plant is hardy, low-maintenance, and easy to care for. All these features make growing cast iron plants easy both indoors and out.

Even if you have a brown thumb, you can keep your Cast Iron plant alive and well for many years to come.

Aspidistra elatior with its dark green leaves was used to decorate interiors in the Victorian era long before we heard of or discussed peace lily care, Aglaonema varieties, or using the Snake plant as a houseplant.

This slow-growing plant almost no sunlight, survived under adverse conditions with a 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]

This hardy plant thrives today, with its same tough and resilient characteristics, and allows the cast iron to endure the low light situations found indoors of today’s modern homes and offices.

Cast Iron Plant Care

Grown indoors, Aglaonemas, the durable “Zanzibar Gem” (ZZ plant), and snake plants are possibly the only other indoor plants capable of handling the conditions of low light, drafts, and general neglect in watering and dust accumulation.

Aspidistras…

  • Tolerate dust, neglect and is drought tolerant
  • Tolerate heat and cold with temperatures as low as 28° degrees Fahrenheit without injury to the foliage. (more on cold-tolerant houseplants)
  • Tolerate areas with low lighting levels as low as 10-foot candles
  • Make a great addition to cut flower arrangements; the foliage often lasts for weeks.
  • Generally Pest Free

Size & Growth

Aspidistra elatior grows upward in clusters from thick, fleshy root stalks and stems at the base. The cornlike, shiny, green leaf blades grow to 24″-30″ inches long.

Full-sized cast iron plants shoot up from underground rhizomes stems about 12″ inches long, holding leaves reaching 12 “-18″ inches long and 5” inches wide, producing an arching effect.

The young leaves stemming from the underground rhizome are rolled up at the base of the plant. Then, they slowly open up to a narrow, pointy tip.

Owners of small cast iron plants need patience. Even with healthy growth, an Aspidistra takes considerable time for the entire plant to reach specimen size.

The variegated Aspidistra features leaves with light-colored stripes along the edges. Sometimes, they also display these stripes on the center of each large leaf.

variegated form of Aspidistra elatiorPin
Aspidistra elatior variegata

A dwarf form called Aspidistra minor or Aspidistra Milky Way has black-green leaves with white spots. Try to collect all three and display them in attractive decorative containers.

When planted outdoors, the cast iron plant spreads outwards at a rate of about 18″ inches per year. This makes it the perfect evergreen plant for your yard.

Like many “folk” plants, cast iron plants are not always available in nurseries. Their availability is partly because of its slow growth and not adequately appreciated.

Cast iron plants are usually grown in 6″, 8″, and 10″ inch azalea pots. As a bushy potted plant, 12″ to 24″ inches tall and wide, the Aspidistra has few equals. They make perfect plants for indoor use in a bathroom.

Cast Iron Flower and Fragrance

Cast Iron plants rarely bloom, showing off their bell-shaped flower. However, on occasion, Apsidistra produces small purple flowers near the base of the soil surface.

They don’t last long if they do appear, and they don’t have any distinct fragrance.

Unusual Bell-shaped flower of Aspidistra Cast Iron Plant

Flower of cast iron plant - Aspidistra elatiorPin
Bell-shaped flower of the cast iron plant
Aspidistra elatior via Stewart Black / Flickr

The small globular aspidistra flowers with a violet-brown color (in a perianth) grow at the soil level.

aspidistra elatior flower at soil levelPin
This plant bears flowers and fruits just beneath the soil line.

Light & Temperature

As with many indoor perennials, Cast Iron plants prefer bright indirect light. Yet, it’s not essential to their well-being, and they can handle low light conditions.

The one thing they can’t handle direct sunlight indoors. Direct sun can burn leaves or make them light green. So keep them in shaded parts of your home or yard to avoid damaging the leaves.

Ideal temperatures should range between 70° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Iron plants prefer temperatures between 50°-55° degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Aspidistras are much more attractive with proper care and will tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

As Indoor Plants

Bright light from a north window is best. However, if growing under artificial light, plants will do well with 150-foot candles.

Aspidistra does handle dry air and low humidity but does best with some air moisture.

As Landscape Plants

The cast iron plant is recommended for USDA Hardiness Growing Zone 7 – 11. They do best when planted in shaded areas away from direct sunlight. The cast iron plant handles temperature extremes from 45° – 85° degrees Fahrenheit very well, and temperatures do not seem to affect plant growth.

Water and Fertilizer

Aspidistra thrives when you let the soil dry before watering again. Avoid overwatering. Water them every 10 to 14 days when the top few inches of soil is dry to the touch.

The iron plant can handle underwatering, even up to a month. It’s overwatering that can cause them to die from root rot.

Keep the soil moist but do not allow the root system to stay wet and soggy.

Even soil moisture but not constantly wet soil is ideal to water this long-lasting plant, although it will survive forgotten waterings.

Fertilizing

As a slow grower, do not overfeed. Instead, to boost their health, apply fertilizer – a liquid food once per month at 1/2 strength or apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer before the spring and summer months growth begins.

Under low light conditions, apply an all-purpose liquid fertilizer every 3 to 4 months.

Stop feeding during the cold winter months.

Soil, Re-Potting & Transplanting

The best potting soil for these Bar Room plants must have good drainage.

As A Potted Indoor Plant, use a good quality well-drained potting soil mix like those made for African Violets or houseplants. Make your own potting mix with:

  • 1 part all-purpose loam
  • 1 part peat moss
  • 1 part perlite or vermiculite

Add pumice or coarse sand to improve drainage and prevent soggy soil.

The iron plant does well when pot-bound and needs repotting every two to three years. Repot in early spring using a pot with drainage holes before new growth begins. They don’t like having their roots disturbed too often.

If you must move the plant to another pot, make sure it’s for the right reasons. For example, it’s getting too big. If this is the case, pick a pot size two inches larger than the current old pot. Then, gently remove and carefully untangle the roots before setting them down in their new home.

As A Landscape Plant: Outside, plant the cast iron in a good quality, well-drained garden soil with decayed manure and up to 1/3 part peat or humus added. The root ball needs to have any excess water able to drain away from the roots.

NOTE: I have personally seen beds of cast iron plants do very well in poor soil with good drainage.

Cast iron plants planted in a landscape bedPin
Cast iron Aspidistra plants growing as a ground cover in a landscape bed
Disney World, Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida 2018

Grooming And Maintenance

To protect Cast Iron leaves from dust build-up, wipe each leaf with a damp cloth or soft sponge once a month. Regular cleaning also protects them from pests and boosts photosynthesis allowing the leaves to have more light.

Pruning should be done in early March. Remove dead leaves, dying leaves, trim brown leaf tips, and leaves starting to turn brown.

This gives the plant time to recover during the summer. By trimming the stems and leaves to a couple of inches from the soil surface, you’ll help grow a more robust, healthier plant.

How To Propagate Cast Iron Plants

Propagate a new plant by root division. Break or cut a rhizome with a knife into several pieces. Each division should have two to three leaves.

Make new plants by planting multiple divisions together in a large growing pot.

  • Prepare a new pot and fill it halfway with soil.
  • Then, place each piece into a separate pot.
  • Cover with more potting soil until it reaches an inch below the top of the pot.
  • Press the soil down gently and add some water.
  • Propagation should be done every couple of years during the spring.
  • This allows the plant to grow stronger and last for many years.

Cast Iron Pests or Diseases

These hardy plants are resistant to almost all types of pests and diseases. However, they can occasionally be affected by spider mites, scale insects, and mealy bugs.

They’re also vulnerable to diseases caused by fungus or bacteria due to overwatering. Some of these include:

  • leaf spot disease
  • Fusarium rot
  • Fusarium blight
  • Sclerotium stem rot

Cultural Issues

Cracked leaves from bruising: Usually caused by people brushing up against the plant. Move the plant to a new location where people will not run into it.

Yellow leaf: Usually caused by exposure to strong lighting.

Move this deep shade-loving plant to a location where it will receive partial 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 correctly 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 deep 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 broadband fungicide, and DO NOT water. Resume regular care after the plant recovers.

potted cast iron houseplant Pin

Suggested Cast Iron Uses

If planting them outdoors, Cast Iron plants look great against a fence line. One of their superpowers is they flourish in hard-to-grow areas. They do exceptionally well under trees, where they’re shielded from sunlight.

They make lovely filler plants in the yard. You can also plant them along the border of your flower beds.

In the Southern United States, like Louisiana, cast iron plants grow as a carefree ground cover in dense, deep shade.

Indoors these slow-growing plants do exceptionally well in dark and low-lit corners. Place them in large planters on the floor.

The good news is they’re non-toxic. So, you don’t have to worry about children or pets coming in contact with the plant.

Aspidistra is a slow grower, expensive to produce, and costs more. But, with all its positive attributes, it is well worth the price. Aspidistras offer long-term enjoyment and beauty.

Image: source

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