Cast Iron Plant - Aspidistra elatior
By Bill Nicholas

The Cast Iron plant is a beloved Victorian parlor plant and a staple of southern shade
gardens.  This native of China has a well earned common name.  It will tolerate our
droughts and rain saturated soils, as well as dense shade.  Our epic 100 year winters
are only a temporary set back for the aspidistra.

Perhaps because of its easy culture, this plant has faded in popularity in our modern
landscapes.  But I consider it indispensable in the Mobile shade garden.  Perhaps if we
use it more imaginatively than ringing the bases of trees with it, it might gain in appreciation. 
Use it in large containers, and it will be happy there for years with little attention.  For all of
us in search of the low maintenance garden, this is certainly a plant to consider. 

The things to consider in growing aspidistra are few.  Don't grow it in full sun.  The leaves fade and burn and it will be a miserable specimen.  Full or light shade is what it thrives in as well as almost any soil as long as it is not constantly wet.

Propagation is done by digging and dividing clumps in the fall or spring.  Container grown plants can be installed at anytime of the year.  After a couple of years, the plants will look cleaner if the old foliage is removed.  If thinning out the dead and dying leaves is too difficult, mow the whole planting down every three or four years.  In the late winter, raise your mower to at least three inches and have at it.

Of note, is that there are several varieties of aspidistra available at local nurseries.  The most available is the standard solid dark green variety (the species Aspidistra elatior).  There is a variety with leaves speckled in gold most often questionably labeled Milky Way.  Aspidistra elatior Variegata does have leaves variegated with various amounts of white stripes and splashes, but about one half or more of the leaves will be solid green.  I've also seen an occasional planting here of a variety called Akebono which has a single white stripe down the center of the leaf.  But you are not limited to these selections.  If you are a connoisseur of the rare and obscure, you can find dozens of aspidistra varieties from online nurseries.

P.S.  The cut foliage of aspidistras holds forever in flower arrangements  



Table of Contents
and links for more
1 - Announcements
2- Chayote, Mirliton, or Vegetable Pear
3 - Cast Iron Plant
4 - Figs
5 - Plant Swap