One of the nicknames for the cast iron plant (Aspidistra eliator) is "bar room plant." That should give some idea of just how much neglect, and the type of less-than-ideal conditions this plant can not only survive, but thrive in.
What Is Cast Iron Plant?
Cast iron plant is a shade-loving understory plant native to Japan and Taiwan. It has lance-shaped, dark green leaves that grow in a graceful, arching manner. Though slow-growing, it can reach up to three feet tall, but most cast iron plants grown as houseplants won't get nearly that large. They're reliable, non-fussy plants that can provide a nice shot of greenery and life to an otherwise dark, lifeless corner of your home or office.
For those with pets, cast iron plant is a good choice. The ASPCA lists it as non-toxic to both cats and dogs.
Cast Iron Plant Care
As its name suggests, cast iron plant is tough and able to withstand just about any indoor conditions with very little coddling.
Cast iron plant will grow well in anything except bright, direct light. Bright to medium indirect light, such as near a north-facing window, will work wonderfully. It also grows well in low light - it just won't grow very quickly.
Cast iron plant doesn't like to be waterlogged, but it does need regular watering. A good rule of thumb is that if you stick your finger into the soil and don't feel any moisture in the top inch or two of soil, it's time to water. Give it a good, deep watering, let it drain completely, and then check every few days, watering again when the top 2 inches of soil feel dry.
Keeping cast iron plant too wet will result in root rot, which can eventually kill the plant.
Fertilize cast iron plant once per month during spring and summer with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. It doesn't need fertilizer in the fall and winter.
Aspidistra can go quite a long time between repottings -- three to five years, generally. When you do repot, just go up one pot size, filling in around the root ball with good quality potting soil and planting it at the same depth it was growing in its previous pot.
Cast iron plant isn't picky. Any good quality potting mix will do.
Temperature and Humidity
Cast iron plant is generally comfortable in the average temperature and humidity of most homes. It will die in freezing temperatures and icy drafts.
While it does prefer a bit of humidity, it will grow fine without it. To give your cast iron plant a bit of added humidity during very dry spells, consider misting the air around it once or twice per day, or set it on a saucer filled with pebbles and a bit of water.
Cast Iron Plant Problems and Pests
There aren't any pest or disease problems associated with cast iron plant. The main cause of death for aspidistras is over-watering, which results in root rot. Very rarely, thrips or aphids can be a problem.
Growing Cast Iron Plant Outdoors
Cast iron plant is not only an easy, beautiful addition to your indoor garden, but it can be grown outdoors as well.
- If planting outdoors, cast iron plant should not be planted in full sun. An area that is shady to partial sun is ideal. If planting in an area that gets sun, morning sun and afternoon shade is best, since afternoon sun tends to bring the hottest, brightest conditions.
- It is pest and disease resistant whether you grow it indoors or out. Cast iron plant looks beautiful planted in containers on your porch or patio, mixed with flowering annuals or all on its own. Or, it can also be planted directly into garden beds, where it makes a lush green border or backdrop for shorter plants. If you're planting it in garden beds, it should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart.
- It's important to keep in mind that cast iron plant can handle quite a lot... but it can't handle cold weather. If you garden anywhere colder than hardiness zone 7, you'll have to treat aspidistra as an annual that will die back with a frost, or be prepared to bring it indoors to overwinter.
Cast Iron Plant Propagation
Cast iron plant grows from thick rhizomes, which is why you can let the soil dry out so much in between waterings. It's easy to propagate these plants by cutting off a piece of the rhizome that has at least two stems growing from it.
Plant the division in a small (three to four-inch pot) with fresh potting soil, being sure to plant it as deeply as it was growing when it was attached to the mother plant. Water it well, and keep it in bright, indirect light.
It takes a bit of time before you'll start seeing new growth from a cast iron plant division, often as long as five to six months before new shoots appear. But once they do, you'll know your new division has rooted and you can expect it to fill out more quickly over the next several months.
Cast Iron Plant Varieties
There are several varieties of cast iron plant.
- 'Hoshi-zora' has deep green leaves dusted with yellow and white dots. The leaves of 'Hoshi-zora' are around six inches wide, which is much wider than most aspidistra leaves.
- 'Variegata' has dark green leaves with creamy white stripes.
- 'Aashi' is a unique variety with bright green leaves that have creamy white and yellow streaks along the tips of the leaves. They can grow to 30 inches tall, and the leaves are around 5 inches wide.
- 'Okame' has dramatic green and white streaked leaves.
- 'Tiny Tank' is a dwarf cast iron plant with striking yellowish-green leaves. It grows very slowly, and at maximum height only reaches 18 inches tall.
Easy Greenery, Indoors or Out
Cast iron plant is a stunning, low-maintenance plant, whether you grow it as a houseplant or out in your garden. This is one plant that can withstand just about anything.