Aspidistra elatior or the Cast Iron Plant is native to China and Japan, and belongs to the lily family. The most common variety is the one with all green leaves, A. elatior (sometimes labeled as A. lurida), although there is a rare variegated variety called A. elatior variegata which you may be able to source. Before you start your epic search however, do bare in mind the variegated variety is less forgiving about its lighting requirements (it needs more light in order to retain it's cream stripes), it's also much less hardy and slow growing than it's all green cousin. A. elatior is not a fast grower at the best of times, so a cultivar which is even slower may account for its lack of availability.
Once very popular, this plant was a common feature of many a Victorian hallway. Fully capable of dealing with murky and poor light conditions it received its nickname; Cast Iron Plant for it's near indestructibility.
It does takes a long time to grow to a saleable size therefore Aspidistra's can be quite expensive to buy, and this combined with some of the stereotypes that the plant is old fashioned and fussy means it can be quite difficult to get hold of. However it is definitely worth searching for, despite the stereotype it's actually a very easy and beautiful plant to grow, it will also live quite happily in many areas of the home without too much effort from you. They also have incredible potential for longevity with many anecdotal stories of peoples Aspidistra's reaching 50 years of age and beyond.
When it comes to the light requirements for an Aspidistra it's pretty easy to get right because it will be able to deal with any light it's given, providing it isn't in direct sun. While difficult to kill generally, it won't survive sunshine (bright light is fine). So aim for a north facing window, or a shady / bright position deeper into a room with other facing aspects.
The Aspidistra's cast iron nature means it will deal with sporadic watering easily. To really thrive though it needs a fair amount of water during the growing season, although you do need to let it dry out between watering's. In the Winter months just enough to keep it ticking over. If you have chosen a dark area for it to live the water needs will also be less so be careful not to overdo it as overwatering can have negative consequences.
Humidity levels are not important for the Cast Iron Plant.
Feed an Aspidistra during the growing season about once every two or three months with a weak solution.
A temperature between 7°C - 29°C / 45°F - 85°F is ideal so you won't typically need to worry about this in the average home.
Only repot a Cast Iron Plant occasionally. It dislikes disturbance at its roots and like giving too much light, frequent repotting will kill the plant. For young plants this should be no more than once a year and for a mature Aspidistra you are looking at once every three or four years. A pot slightly bigger than the current one and standard potting soil should be used.
If you want to propagate your plant you can do this when you repot by slowly and carefully dividing the "clump", you'll need to keep at least two or three stems in each division. The roots are sensitive but quite sturdy compared to other houseplants so it's best to try and divide by hand rather than using a spade or knife.
Speed of Growth
An Aspidistra will grow quite slow. For example ours only tends to put out three or four new gorgeous light green leaves in Spring. These slowly grow bigger and change to the familiar darker green over the rest of that particular growing season. By the time September has arrived the new leaves from the Spring are indistinguishable from the older ones and that's the end of that years growth cycle. Once established and mature, the leaves do not change from year to year, although the older leaves can yellow and die off.
Height / Spread
The maximum height and spread is usually around 1m / 3ft.
Yes you can get flowers on the Cast Iron Plant (see picture)! However, although quite rare, they are unremarkable and have no scent. Flowers poke out of the ground and stay at soil level, this is because they are pollinated by slugs and snails out in their natural habitat. It's normal to only get one at a time, and typically each one will last for a few weeks. Only mature plants will produce flowers and the light levels need to be of a reasonable level.
The large leaves are a dust magnet. Although dusty leaves wont harm the plant, wash them every couple of months to keep them looking at their best.
The Aspidistra is really a rather tolerant and hardy plant, it can stand dark hallways, cool temperatures and polluted air, but if you are having problems have a look below.
Brown tips on Aspidistra leaves
This can be difficult to diagnose as brown tips on the leaves can be caused by a variety of things, so you'll need to read the below and relate it to your care techniques. Meanwhile you can cut the tips off without harming the leaves.
The most common reason would be down to slight overwatering. Really heavy overwatering will kill an Aspidistra but slightly overwatering regularly can cause brown tips to appear. Especially on the older more mature leaves.
The second most common cause is permanent placement in a warm arid location, perhaps near a radiator or open fire. Warm conditions are fine in short bursts, but over long periods brown tips can be a frequent problem.
Thirdly pests such as Spider Mites can cause brown tips, although this is less likely than the suggestions above.
Brown edges / scorch marks
Aspidistra is a little like a vampire in the sense it doesn't need a great deal to live, but it absolutely can not stand bright sunlight. It needs a shady / bright location or the weak filtered sunlight from a North East / North West facing window ledge anything more is too much.
If the leaves are going yellow on mass, or one at a time but over a long period this is often caused by one of the following:
Too cold temperatures: Exposure to very cold temperatures or Frost will cause a rapid and mass yellowing effort.
Too frequent repotting: Try not to disturb the roots of the plant. The number one way of doing this is by repotting. If you are repotting the plant more than once every two years it's too frequent.
Too much water: If it had the choice an Aspidistra would rather be too dry than too wet. The soil should only ever be moist never soaked or sodden. If the soil is too saturated with water the roots will suffer and this is typically reflected in a large number of leaves taking it in turn to yellow up and die off.
Possible Cure: The yellowing problem happened to our plant once before, probably from too much water in the dead of Winter (we can all get it wrong sometimes!). Sometimes individual stems do these things to try and allow the rest of the plant to survive and after one leaf went totally yellow it was like it sent a signal to another one to start yellowing up. Starting from the centre of the leaf, a number of leaves kept going yellow one by one in a cascade effect and after slowly losing six over a number of weeks, things were becoming dire.
In the end we halted the yellowing by taking a radical approach by cutting off an entire leaf stem very close to the soil that had the very first signs of a yellow streak appearing. This seemed to stop the "signal cascade" and no more yellowing going forward.
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