Few plants are as difficult to kill as those famously known as cast iron plants.
Originating from Taiwan and southern Japan, these herbaceous perennials are best known for a single species, Aspidistra elatior (ass-pih-DIS-trah eh-LAY-tee-or).
Known also as the bar room plant, this particular cast iron plant and its many cultivars are what most people think of first.
Among these colorful members of the Asparagaceae family, Aspidistra elatior ‘Variegata’ is one of the most stunning.
Variegated Cast Iron Plant Care
Size & Growth
You wouldn’t think that these small shrubs could grow to 10’ feet in the wild, as they tend to only reach 2’ to 3’ fewer tall and about as wide when cultivated domestically.
This relatively slow grower has even more striking foliage than its parent species.
Each 24” to 26” inch longleaf is a deep green color with creamy white stripes running its length.
Over time, the rhizome will create a small clump of these vertical leaves.
Flowering And Fragrance
It’s rare to see the cast iron plant flower, especially indoors.
When it does, the almost prehistoric-looking bell-shaped flowers sprout directly from the rhizome in the spring months.
They have a pale purplish outside with a creamy inner surface and are pollinated by fungus gnats.
If you’re lucky enough to get one to bloom and fertilize it, the flowers will give way to a fleshy berry containing a single seed.
Light & Temperature
Direct sunlight is one of the few enemies for your variegated cast iron plant, as it can easily scorch the leaves.
Instead, aim for bright, indirect sunlight to partial shade.
While cast iron plants can thrive in full shade, this will cause your plant to lose its variegation.
These plants tolerate low humidity but enjoy average household levels when available.
The plant can grow outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 12, although it’s more common to see them indoors.
The ideal temperature for Aspidistra plants is between 60° and 75° degrees Fahrenheit.
While the plant doesn’t like extended exposure to temperatures below 50° degrees Fahrenheit, it can survive brief drops to as low as -5° degrees Fahrenheit if adequately mulched.
Watering And Feeding
Variegated cast iron plants have some degree of drought tolerance, although they’ll thrive when provided with the right amount of water.
Check the soil moisture by sticking your finger in the potting mix and water when the soil dries 1″ to 2” inches down.
This is an excellent way to let the plant tell you if it’s thirsty and can help you avoid the risk of fungal infections or other problems.
While this plant can survive a lot of neglect, feeding it every once in a while can make it more vibrant and healthy-looking.
Give it a monthly dose of balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer throughout spring and summer, letting it rest for the remaining months.
Be careful not to get fertilizer on exposed portions of the plant and feed after watering to help reduce the risk of chemical burns.
Soil & Transplanting
Your variegated cast iron plant can thrive in almost any soil, as long as that soil is well-draining.
Ideally, give them a quality potting mix that has a high organic component and slightly acidic pH, although it will survive in a pH level range of 5.5 to 7.5.
You will need to repot your bar room plant every 3 to 4 years or when it becomes root-bound.
The telltale sign of root binding is discovering roots beginning to poke out of the drainage holes.
Repot in the spring, graduating to one container size larger as needed.
You will also want to give the plant fresh soil at this time.
Note that it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for your cast iron plant to recover from transplant shock.
Grooming And Maintenance
While major pruning should be reserved for the growing season, you can remove dead or diseased leaves at any point in the year.
Always use sharp, sterile shears and clear away foliage at the base of the stem or any excess growth.
You will also want to wipe the leaves at least monthly, as this improves photosynthesis and helps the variegation stand out.
Another interesting Aspidistra is the Milky Way Cast Iron Plant.
How to Propagate Variegated Bar Room Plant?
By far, the most successful method for propagating your cast iron plant is through division.
There have been claims of success in propagating from leaves pruned at the base, but these claims have yet to be verified.
Aspidistra elatior ‘Variegata’ Pests Or Diseases
Variegated cast iron plants are incredibly tough and are resistant to drought, pollution, and brief deep freezes, although you should bring them indoors when the temperature dips below 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
They’re resistant to both deer and rabbits and may also be grown on slopes.
A small number of pests are known to infest cast iron plants, such as mealybugs, scale, slugs, snails, and spider mites.
However, fungus gnats are actually beneficial to these plants and serve as the chief pollinators.
As a result, you may wish to isolate a plant and allow the gnats to infest it for a while if it’s gone to bloom.
Anthracnose, leaf spot, and root rot are the three primary diseases this plant can suffer from.
One more piece of good news: Variegated cast-iron plants are safe and non-toxic to both humans and pets.
Likewise, their sap isn’t known to be an allergen or cause irritation.
Variegated Cast Iron Plant Uses
You may be tempted to place this plant in shady garden spots, such as under decks or trees.
However, while the plant will thrive, too much shade will mean you’ll miss out on its variegation.
These plants can also thrive in artificial light, meaning they’ll be quite happy living in an office or dorm.
Of course, the true beauty of a variegated cast iron plant is in its foliage, and this cultivar is a perfect accent for bookshelves, tables, and north-facing window sills.