Aspidistra Elatior (Cast Iron Plant)

About the Cast Iron Aspidistra

Aspidistra elatior or the Cast Iron Plant is native to China and Japan, and belongs to the lily family. A large Aspidistra in a white potThe most common variety is the one with all green leaves, A. elatior (sometimes labeled as A. lurida).

There is a relativity rare variegated variety called A. elatior variegata that has white stripes tinged with yellow, that you may be able to find. Before you start your 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 its 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. It famously appeared in the 1936 novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" by George Orwell (although the book itself has nothing to do with houseplant care!). Fully capable of dealing with poor light and murky conditions as well as poor air quality, it received its nickname; Cast Iron Plant for its near indestructibility.

It will live quite happily in many areas of the home without too much effort from you.

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's definitely worth searching for, despite the stereotype it's actually a very forgiving 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.

Read on for step by step care instructions, common Aspidistra problems as well as other readers comments and photos.

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Aspidistra Care Guide

Light

When it comes to the light requirements for an Aspidistra it's easy to get right, because it can pretty much deal with any light it's given, providing it isn't direct sunlight.

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.

Watering

The Aspidistra's cast iron nature means it will deal with sporadic watering easily and can work around dry soil. To really thrive though, it does need 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've chosen a dark or shady area for it to live the water need will be less so be careful not to overdo it as significant overwatering can be deadly.

Humidity

Humidity levels are not important for the Cast Iron Plant.

Feeding

Feed an Aspidistra during the growing season about once every two or three months with a weak houseplant feed solution.

Temperature

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. If growing outside in the ground these plants can often cope with temperatures down to about −5 °C (23 °F) given some protection. Do expect some die back and we really wouldn't recommend taking the risk with Grandma's 50 year old plant! Bring them indoors when the temperature drops.

Repotting

You should only be repotting a Cast Iron Plant very 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.

Propagation

If you want to propagate your plant you can do this when you repot it 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

New Cast Iron Plant leaves in SpringAn Aspidistra will grow quite slowly. For example ours only tends to put out three or four new 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 it's normal for older Aspidistra leaves to go yellow and die off each year.

Height / Spread

The maximum height and spread for these plants is usually around 1m / 3ft.

Flowers

Yes you can get flowers on the Cast Iron Plant (see picture)! However, although quite rare, they're unremarkable and have no scent. Flowers emerge out of the ground and stay at soil level, this is because they're pollinated by slugs, snails and Amphipods out in their natural habitat. A purple Aspidistra Flower emerging from the soilIt'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 reasonably good.

Is the Aspidistra Poisonous?

The wonderful Aspidistra plant has the added benefit of not being toxic to people, cats or dogs.

Anything else?

The large leaves are dust magnets. Although dusty leaves won't harm the plant it can dull the look of the plant so, wash them every couple of months to keep them looking at their best.


Aspidistra Problems

The Aspidistra is a rather tolerant and hardy plant, it can stand dark hallways, cool temperatures and polluted air, but if you're 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. You'll need to read the below and relate it to your past care techniques. Meanwhile you can cut the brown 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, with too little watering, 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.

Aspidistra leaves turning yellow

The odd leaf going yellow is normal and not something to be worried about. However 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:

  • 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're repotting a mature 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 seven large leaves 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 there was no more yellowing going forward.


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