137 Aspidistra elatiorCommon Names: iron plant, barroom plant, cast-iron plant Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
Aptly named 'cast-iron plant' for its seeming ability to last forever in the most adverse conditions, the humble Aspidistra elatior is a staple of the shade garden. It has wide, evergreen leaves that rise up from tough, rhizomatous roots. The lance shaped leaves are dark green and leathery, and around 12-20 in (30-50 cm) long. The aspect of cast-iron plant is decidedly vertical. Some types of aspidistra are variegated with creamy streaks or dots; some are shorter than the species. The plants spread in clumps, vigorously but at a moderate enough rate not to be invasive or even troublesome. The flowers are borne close to the ground and never even seen unless one deliberately searches for them.
Aspidistra elatior is originally from China.
CultureCast-iron plant likes a well worked, fertile soil. It can stand hard, poor soils, but not soggy conditions and not too much sun. In variegated varieties, color patterns often disappear if the plant is grown in rich soil. Fertilize during period of active growth for best appearance, but aspidistra thrives on neglect and will get along fine unless the soil is practically devoid of nutrients. Light: Cast-iron plant thrives in deep to moderate shade. (Actually the plant will stand a fair amount of direct sun and still live, but will look bleached out and stressed.) Moisture: Grow in a dry to moist, but well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Propagation: Propagate by division of clumps at any time of year, but it's best to do it in the spring. Transplant the divisions a little deeper than originally growing.
Aspidistra is often grown in a container as a porch or patio plant, or as a house plant. In landscapes, it can be used as a border or be planted in a drift around trees, or to fill a planter under an overhang. In his North Florida garden, Steve has a stand of them growing in almost total shade at the base of a large live oak tree. Florists use the leaves in arrangements, where they lend drama and provide an excellent background for flowers. The leaves of cast-iron plant are especially long lasting in arrangements.
Cast-iron plant is one of the best choices you can make for areas with dim light (such as indoors) or otherwise unfavorable conditions.
Steve Christman 02/01/98, updated 4/25/06