“ This perennial is as tough as its name! It will practically grow in the dark. Excellent for those difficult to fill areas in deep shade. Spreads by underground stems. Evergreen. Shade. Slow-growing bold blades to 2 feet tall, forms clumps 2 to 3 feet wide. Division. „
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I bought the plant because of the name, cast iron. I have purchased six so far. The first two "went the way of all flesh" within a few months. They were babies. The second two I purchased were mature - I was told three years old. They are doing OK. To me, they require careful attention. They are not "cast iron" as the name suggests. The last two I purchased are "milky ways." They seem to be more of the cast iron ilk!
I was told to mix the soil with pine bark. I did that. The pine bark absorbs water preventing the roots from rotting. That's a great tip and how I do all my plants now.
One vendor said "no whole lot of sun." Another vendor said, "They love sunlight." I like the large green leaves but I have not met with success. I have some fabulous Chinese Evergreens and they're easy to care for! Hint! Hint!
~~ Introduction ~~
My earliest encounter with an aspidistra, as I recall, was in the entrance area in my rather traditional high school for girls, many years ago. I found it somehow both boring and interesting at the same time, for the same reason : it never seemed to change in any way! Then I came across references to the plant in songs like Gracie Fields' 'The Biggest Aspidistra in the World' and George Orwell's new classic 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying', which had this description:
'Gordon had a sort of secret feud with the aspidistra. Many a time he had furtively attempted to kill it -- starving it of water, grinding hot cigarette-ends against its stem, even mixing salt with its earth. But the beastly things are practically immortal. In almost any circumstances they can preserve a wilting, diseased existence.'
These experiences made me curious about the plant and, when I had a place of my own to look after, I wanted to try growing one.
~~ A Bit of Background Reading ~~
I'm always fascinated to discover the origins of houseplants, as they tend not to be indigenous to this country - why would you grow them as houseplants if they were? - and knowing the kind of growth conditions in which they thrive naturally can be a great help in providing optimum conditions for them as a houseplant, as this is almost always a restricted form to grow them in. It seems that Eastern Asia is the most favoured region for the aspidistra genus to grow, with more than fifty species being found in China alone. For most of us in the UK, however, it is the Aspidistra Elatior which is the most common. It arrived here in about 1822 and was extremely popular in Victorian times, no doubt due in part to its ability to thrive in dark rooms and withstand pollutants such as those from a coal fire. I believe it's available in three main forms: the plain green, a variegated leaf, and a dwarf form. I imagine it would look very attractive if you could display all three together, with the small one at the front. Many years ago I managed to buy a variegated plant but unfortunately killed it quite quickly - that was in the days before I grew my green fingers!
~~ First Find Your Plant ~~
This may be easier said than done as the aspidistra is not so easy to find today. Garden centres don't often stock it, perhaps due in part to its slow rate of growth resulting in it taking a long time to reach specimen size. This was certainly true of mine, which was a straggly looking affair with about three leaves on when I purchased it several years ago from a local grocers shop that occasionally sold plants. I think I paid over £5 for it, even then. ! Maybe they've gone out of fashion in our days of fairly light, centrally heated homes. The scarcity and slow growth combined can also make it expensive to buy. On the day of writing, I checked prices on a few websites; Ebay had eight plants available at £19.99 each, with a hefty £7.95 postage and packing! It might be worth asking for a root division if you know someone who has one, or keeping an eye open at car boor sales if money is tight!
~~ Appearance and Characteristics ~~
The aspidistra has been describes as an old-fashioned, tough, houseplant with leathery foliage. I think the common name 'cast iron plant' comes from its seeming ability to cope with challenging conditions, whether outside or inside - rather like people who are said to have a cast-iron constitution. Its root system is rhizomatous, meaning that it has a horizontal, underground stem that often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. The leaves are not unlike those of the maize or sweet corn plant. They are a long oval in shape and glossy dark green in colour. The plants may grow up to 60cm [24"] in height and have a spread of 45cm. [18"] Occasionally they produce flowers near soil level, on short stalks. The colour of these can apparently range from cream to purple, though they are inconspicuous. I have never seen any on my plant.
~~ How to Care for an Aspidistra ~~
I feel under qualified to write about this because, in truth, it has taken me some time to get mine to do well. I very thought I had it in a good location, in a dark situation in our entrance hall, but it looked unhappy there and dwindled down to 2 leaves. I really thought it would die, and in desperation moved it into our downstairs cloakroom, which is north facing. Thankfully it seems much happier there and now has about a dozen leaves. My only regret is that I don't feel it's displayed in its full glory in that situation. At the moment I'm not giving it much water but will gradually increase this from March. I will use a weekly foliar feed from March until late October, using something that is high in nitrogen content, like Baby Bio. That should encourage new growth and keep the leaves a lovely healthy green colour. If it gets really hot or dry I may spray the leaves with water to keep them from drying out too much. In late May/early June I will think about finding a sheltered outdoor position for it. Last year I placed it under one of my raised plant benches, so that it was away from direct light and hopefully wouldn't get waterlogged if there was heavy rain; if it did, I could easily check it and drain it off. I will bring it back in before the first frosts. Aspidistras can cope with a minimum temperature of 5-10˚C, apparently, so they are frost tender and I wouldn't want to risk losing it in this way. I don't think putting it outside is essential, though; it's just what I have found works for me. One good thing is that they are not bothered by many pests. If you kept them in a very warm place red spider mite could be a problem. I counteract this possibility by moistening the leaves, or by putting outdoors in the summer, as I mentioned. If over-watered continuously they can be prone to fungal leaf spots. To deal with this you would cut out any affected foliage, sterilising the cutting tool between each cut.
~~ Propagation ~~
The next time I think my aspidistra needs repotting, which is likely to be spring 2013, looking at it now, I shall look to see if I can cut off a section of the rhizome that has good roots attached as well as 3-4 leaves; I will then pot this division on and care for it as a young plantlet. It isn't possible to propagate aspidistras via leaf cuttings, and it seems that growing from seed is not easy, so propagation by division seems the obvious choice for me.
4 stars because it's not easy to find one!
Thank you for reading my review, which may also be found on other sites.
Aspidistras are members of the lily family, but instead of having leaves growing from bulbs as many of their relatives do, Aspidistra leaves grow up from somewhat fleshy horizontal stems, that occur on or just under the soil surface. They are most commonly encountered as pot or container-grown plants, and are well-known for being extremely long-lived; in fact I understand that certain individual Aspidistras are said to have achieved proper 'antique status' as they are handed down from generation to generation of the same family.
The plants were popular in Victorian and Edwardian households, perhaps because they are extremely tolerant of the kind of conditions that would finish off less hardy varieties of pot plant (I seem to remember reading that they are also tolerant of the fumes that result from the burning of gas-lights, which are toxic to some other types of plant). Grown away from frost, about the only condition really objectionable to an Aspidistra is over-watering, although strong and direct sunlight will cause the leaves to scorch and wither too.
The dark green leaves grow upright, and are borne at the ends of tough, cylindrical stems. In older plants as the leaves break down you see that they are supported by a fibrous network of veins, which show up as faint parallel ribs on the surfaces of the green leaves. As these push up from the soil they are tightly rolled into a pointed green cylinder - the outer covering of which soon dries and comes away, leaving a curved brown 'scroll' of material lying on the surface of the soil. The little pinky red flowers are attractive but very easily overlooked: they appear directly attached to the underground stems, appearing at the surface of the soil (or sometimes in effect at a level slightly lower than it).
Aspidistras can be propagated quite easily by cutting rooted sections of stem, each bearing at least one leaf, away from the parent plant and potting these up separately. Such home-propagated plants occasionally come up for sale at car boot sales, which is where I got my Aspidistra, which I've had for about 16 years - since around 1995. My plant was a large, multi-leaved, pot-filling Aspidistra and doing very well for a while, but got left outdoors one summer when we were getting some building work done, and ended up waterlogged. Most of the root system rotted in the wet, but I was able to save some sections of stem and now have several, smaller descendants of the original plant to show for this.
Aspidistras are not seen that often at garden centres these days (though they do crop up in indoor flower beds in - especially higher-end - shopping centres reasonably often). Because they are such long-lived plants they tend to be more expensive as pot plants - expect to pay around the £10 mark for a medium sized one - but they are easy to grow and relatively problem-free.
I have one, they are a brilliant plant. Good review, told me all I want to know except one thing. Why and what to do when leaves die back from tip to halfway down leaf.
The Cast Iron plant (also known as the Aspidistra Elatior) is a common indoor plant and is a very easy plant to grow. They are members of the Liliaceae family and are derived from four species that originated in regions of the Himalayas, China and Japan.
The Apidistra was made infamous by George Orwell's third novel, 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying', published in 1936. It told the story of Gordon Comstock, who packs in his successful job in an advertising to become an unsuccessful poet. The Aspidistra of the book's title comes from the pot plants to be found on nearly every window sill of the period. For Comstock, these plants symbolised all that is wrong with the "mingy, lower-class decency" from which he was desperate to escape.
The Aspidistra is not mingy at all! In fact it retains a certain elegance that would enhance anyone's living room or vestibule.
The Aspidistra is a very slow grower but on the other hand it is a very tolerant species that will often survive untold neglect and even abuse from those lacking green fingers. It will stand up well to gas, fumes, cigarette smoke filled rooms, extreme changes in temperature and periods of drought (during holidays for example).
It produces a very rarely seen bright purple flower that is cup shaped and rather fleshy. You will be lucky if you ever see one as it only lasts a day or so.
They will do well in dark corners and dislike direct sunlight.
Water well twice a week during the summer and no more than once a week in winter.
Beware of over feeding. Only do so once every month or so in summer but stop immediately if the leaves start splitting.
Unlike many indoor plants, the Aspidistra dislikes its foliage being sprayed with leaf shine. Instead the leaves should only be sponged with water to remove dust.
The plant will usually develop four or five new leaves per year.
For normal potting a loam based compost no 2 is best.
This will only be necessary once every 2-3 years. Like all members of the Lily family the plant has rhizomes and these should be well covered by compost and not left above the surface.
This is one of the longest living house plants.
An Aspidistra is one of the easiest house plants to grow. If you can't keep an Aspidistra growing, perhaps you should stay away from all house plants.