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Cast iron plant that lives forever?
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Member Name: worst_trip
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Advantages: Hardy with attractive and long-lived foliage
Disadvantages: Somewhat prone to over-watering
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.
Summary: Undeservedly untrendy pot plant
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