The Aspidistra elatior, more commonly known as the cast iron plant, is native to the Eastern Himalayas, Taiwan, China, and Japan. It is a member of the lily family, and has acquired its name because of its unique feature of surviving in extreme conditions. This plant has been around for hundreds of years and is an old-fashioned houseplant which has a tough and leathery texture. It was a favorite indoor plant in England during the Victorian ages as most of the houses then would be dimly lit and less airy. This plant existed long before any other indoor plants were known. It was introduced in America in 1824. Today, it grows abundantly in the southern parts of the United States.
The Aspidistra elatior consists of dark-green leaves that are shiny and corn-like. It blooms occasionally with small purple-brown flowers. These flowers grow close to the base of the plant, and thus go unnoticed most of the time. Size-wise, it is 12 to 24 inches tall and wide as it is a bushy plant. It is usually grown in pots measuring 6, 8, or 10 inches in diameter, and can even be planted directly in the ground. It takes a considerably long time to grow into its specimen size. It is not easily available in nurseries mainly due to its slow growth.
Like its name suggests, it is as sturdy as cast iron and is the most resilient of plants. It can tolerate temperatures going down to 28 degrees, and other extreme conditions like drought, dimly lit places, and even neglect. It is one of the few indoor plants that don't need sunlight. It also adds beauty to flower arrangements and decorations, as the foliage is not only attractive but can also last for weeks. It is easy to care for, and is an excellent porch plant to decorate the patio and a good houseplant as well. It can be used in landscaping and to give borders to the garden. It can also be planted around trees under their shade, or simply in a hanging pot. Its bushy, arching leaves look ornamental.
The propagation of this plant is undertaken in the early spring, and the plants are propagated through division. You can separate one plant into small clumps, but make sure that each division has healthy roots and a minimum of 12 leaves. Once potted, the clumps will take root within no time and form new plants. Another similar way of propagation is by cutting the roots into a number of pieces with a leaf attached to each. These have to be potted separately and within two months time, you will have a new, fully-formed plant.
These plants also have variegated forms. One horticultural variety of Aspidistra elatior, called the Aspidistra elatior Variegata, has attractive and glossy-green leaves striped in white. These creamy-white stripes are present along the rhizomes. However, complete drainage after watering is an important factor for maintaining the striping. Otherwise, the plant will soon go back to being plain-green.
This plant has another variegated form which is smaller. It is called the Aspidistra minor or Milky Way, as it has white spots on its black-green leaves. Glossy dark-green leaves speckled with white are produced along the rhizomes. The flowers of both the variegated forms are creamy white with maroon insides. They are erect, fleshy, and bell-shaped.
Taking care of this plant is not very time-consuming. Though it can survive even if neglected, proper care will enhance its beauty. Usually, the plant grows well in temperatures of 50-55 degrees at night and 70-75 degrees during the day. For best results, you should keep the plant evenly moist but not water it excessively. If you wish to plant it outdoors, a good quality garden soil along with decayed manure or humus will give best results. Indoors, a good-quality potting soil, especially the one made for African violets, will do. Use fertilizers once in 3 or 4 months in low-light conditions; use a half-strength houseplant fertilizer. Though these plants are usually problem-free due to their sturdy nature, there may be an occasional attack by spider mites or scales that you will have to face.
Although the cast iron plant is slow-growing and expensive, it proves to be a good bet as a long-term investment in a houseplant. So, if you are looking for a luscious-green plant that lasts for a long time in your home, this is the right choice.