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Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra Elatior) - Growing and Caring Guide

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by Max - last update on May 8, 2019, 8:50 am
Cast Iron Plant or Aspidistra elatior

This once-fashionable houseplant has become less common over the last century, possibly due to its high purchase price. As a slow grower, the Cast Iron Plant requires many years to reach a saleable size, and because of this can be quite expensive to buy. Its lack of popularity means that you may have to find a specialist grower if you wish to buy one, as this plant is not commonly found in garden centers.

With large shiny upright leaves and easy care requirements, it’s not hard to see why this was once a favorite household plant. The height of its popularity was during the Victorian era, which gives an indication of what sort of conditions the Cast Iron Plant likes to grow in. The plant loves shade and is unaffected by humidity conditions, dust, poor air circulation, or extreme temperatures, which is probably why it thrived in Victorian homes which were renowned for being dark and dreary. It is said that Cast Iron Plants were also unaffected by coal fires and gas lighting used in Victorian properties, whereas other plants suffered with wilting foliage or yellowing leaves as a result.

The common name of ‘Cast Iron Plant’ comes from the robustness of the plant in various conditions, proving itself to be almost indestructible in the face of neglect (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford). It works very well as a houseplant, particularly in homes which have dark corners, variable temperatures, or owners with sporadic watering habits.

Due to its ability to withstand cold temperatures, the Cast Iron Plant also makes a good choice of outdoor plant, as an evergreen perennial. Provided the plant is provided with appropriate levels of shade, it can fare well all year round in an outdoor garden, even in low temperatures. As a lover of shade, be sure to keep the Cast Iron Plant out of direct sunlight, as this will cause scorched leaves and potentially the demise of the plant. It is ideal for dark corners of the garden where it can bring a welcome addition of bright and lush foliage, especially if you opt for a variegated variety, which can feature various vibrant markings in white, yellow, or pale green.

Quick Facts

OriginChina and Japan
Scientific NameAspidistra Elatior
FamilyAsparagaceae
TypeEvergreen
Common NamesCast Iron Plant, Common Aspidistra
Ideal Temperature45- 85° F
ToxicityNon-toxic
LightShade to bright, indirect light
WateringWater moderately
HumidityAny

Caring for Your Cast Iron Plant

Caring for Aspidistra elatior

Watering

Maintaining a moist soil that is never too wet or soggy will keep your Cast Iron Plant in its best health. However, it is very tolerant of skipped waterings and will cope fine in occasionally dry soil. It is best not to intentionally leave this plant dehydrated as it does fare best when watered regularly, but if you have a habit of forgetting to water your plants, or going on vacations without leaving your plants with anyone to look after them, then you don’t need to worry about the Cast Iron Plant dying off. It will tolerate sporadic waterings and a certain amount of neglect when it comes to moisture.

To keep this plant at its happiest, maintain a moist soil by giving it a generous watering and then allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out before you water it again. This will provide the Cast Iron Plant with just the right amount of water, and will also ensure you don’t overwater the plant, preventing root rot.

Temperature

An Aspidistra elatior plant outdoors
A temperature of anywhere between 45° F and 85° F will be ideal for this plant

The Cast Iron Plant unsurprisingly is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, and the vast majority of homes will have suitable temperature conditions for this plant. A temperature of anywhere between 45° F and 85° F will be ideal for this plant, though it can survive temperatures a little outside of this bracket.

In some conditions, the Cast Iron Plant grows in temperatures as low as 30° F without any impact on the foliage appearance. Unlike many plants, the temperature conditions in which this plant is kept do not affect its growth. It is a very slow growing plant and will continue to grow at its usual pace irrelevant if whether it is in a hot or cold climate.

 If you are growing your Cast Iron Plant outside then, it will survive winters where temperatures dip as low as 14° F. In this instance, you should expect some leaf loss, and given the slow-growing nature of the plant, recovery could take some time. If you put your plant outside for summer, then it would be advisable to bring it back inside during colder months, especially if you are particularly fond of the plant and would be sad to lose it.

Light

The Cast Iron Plant will live in just about any type of lighting conditions, with the exception of bright direct sunlight. Ideally, it will be situated in a spot offering bright indirect light and partial shade, as this will result in the healthiest looking plant (Missouri Botanical Garden).

However, if you have a dull corner of a room that needs brightening up with a houseplant, then the Cast Iron Plant will work just fine. It will happily live in full shade but will likely grow at a reduced rate; though this may be difficult to notice as the plant grows so slowly anyway.

This plant was at the height of its popularity during the Victorian era, when homes were famously dull with very little natural light, which tells us a lot about the plant's capability to live successfully in darker conditions. Do remember that plants kept in shade will require less water than those kept in brighter conditions. The Cast Iron Plant can also survive entirely on artificial or fluorescent lighting, making it a good choice of plant for offices or malls.

The only place you cannot put your Cast Iron Plant is on a bright and sunny windowsill. Direct sunlight will cause the leaves to scorch, and it will lead to the plant's demise. The Cast Iron Plant, as the name implies, will withstand a lot of conditions which would be considered imperfect to the majority of houseplants. It is very robust and difficult to upset, but bright, direct light is one sure way to kill the Cast Iron Plant.

Humidity

This plant prefers some moisture in the air but will do just fine in any humidity level. If you would like to mist the plant with a fine water spray, then you can, but it isn’t essential and will likely not make a noticeable difference to the plant's health or appearance. Misting your plants will help to prevent dust from settling on the leaves, so you could do this to effectively kill two birds with one stone. The large leaves are prone to collecting dust, and while they won’t cause your plant any harm, it can spoil the look, so an occasional mist will help ward off dust.

Pruning

The Cast Iron Plant is a slow grower and, as such, doesn’t tend to get out of control or need cutting back to keep it neat. The only instance in which you are likely to need to prune this plant is to remove dead, damaged, or diseased leaves. You can remove whole leaves if they are spoiling the look of your plant, or in the case of brown tips, you can simply cut off the ends without causing any harm to the rest of the leaf.

Feeding

The Cast Iron Plant does not require a lot of fertilizer as it grows slowly and therefore does not use up a great deal of energy. During the growing season, you can use fertilizer to feed your plant if you wish, though it will likely grow just fine without it. The amount of fertilizer you use, if any, will be dependent on the plants light conditions.

A Cast Iron Plant receiving high levels of light can be fertilized monthly during the growing season with diluted fertilizer. Overfeeding the plant will be much more damaging than underfeeding it, so dilute the liquid fertilizer to at least half the strength recommended on the label. Cast Iron Plants living in more shaded areas should be fed much less frequently, every three or four months, with diluted fertilizer. Do not feed the plants at all during the coldest months of the year.

Repotting

Alongside direct sunlight, being repotted is one of the few things that a Cast Iron Plant isn’t a big fan of. Fortunately, due to the slow-growing nature of the plant, it will require repotting very infrequently. You can expect to be repotting young plants every one to two years, while mature Cast Iron Plants will need longer between repotting, usually every three to four years. This plant reacts badly to interference with its roots, so don’t repot it more than necessary.

Propagation

If you have a Cast Iron Plant and would like to create more of them from it, the method of propagation you will need to use is division (Royal Horticultural Society). This is best done at the same time as you are repotting the plant to avoid added disturbance of the roots. Once you have removed your plant from its current pot, gently separate the root ball into two or more plants, depending on the size of your original plant.

You will need to keep at least three stems in each new plant to ensure it stays healthy and can continue to grow. Pot up each new plant in an appropriate sized pot, with fresh potting soil underneath and around the clump of roots. When some houseplants are being divided for propagation it is advisable to use a knife or sharp spade. However, this is not the case when dividing Cast Iron Plants. Their roots are very sensitive and should be eased apart with your fingers, with as little breakage as possible. Fortunately, although the roots are sensitive to distress, they are quite robust and can be handled relatively easily.

Due to the slow-growing nature of the Cast Iron Plant, propagation by division is the only worthwhile way to propagate the plant at home.

Flowers

Mature Cast Iron Plants can produce flowers, though this isn’t very common. Conditions for the plant to produce flowers would need to be just right, including a good supply of bright indirect light. If your Cast Iron Plant has not bloomed, then don’t feel too bad, as the flowers of this plant are not considered to be particularly attractive.

Usually, only one flower will appear at a time at soil level and can look a little out of place. In its natural habitat, the flowers are pollinated by slugs and snails, which explains the low down location of the blooms. The flowers are a dark purple color and have no scent, with each individual bloom lasting a matter of weeks.

Common Problems

Though the Cast Iron Plant is renowned for being a low maintenance and easy care plant, with the ability to survive a wide range of conditions, you may still find yourself with the occasional health issue. The list below will help you identify and treat any problems your Cast Iron Plant runs in to.

Yellow Leaves

Foliage turning shades of yellow in this plant is usually an indication that it has received too much sunlight. Direct sunlight is the main problem for the Cast Iron Plant, which loves shade and dimly lit conditions. To resolve this problem simply remove any damaged leaves and move the plant to a more suitable location where it is protected from direct sunlight. It can handle some filtered light, though will be happiest with at least some partial shade.

Bruised Leaves

This plant is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, but adversely, it is quite sensitive when it comes to being handled. Bruised or cracked foliage in the Cast Iron Plant is typically the result of physical stress, which happens when the plant is knocked in to. Tidy the plant up by removing any of the damaged leaves, and move it to a more sheltered or secluded spot where it is unlikely to come into contact with people walking past.

Loss of Variegation

Variegated varieties of the Cast Iron Plant are very striking in appearance. They are less common than the all green variety and, as a result, can be quite difficult to find and expensive to buy. If your beloved variegated plant loses its markings and reverts to a solid green color, then the problem could be a number of things, so you’ll need to assess your recent care of the plant to narrow down the most likely cause.

Varieties 

Aspidistra Elatior

This is the most common form of the Cast Iron Plant that you are likely to find, with large and shiny dark green leaves growing to over 20 inches in length. Due to its slow-growing nature, it takes a long time for the plant to reach a saleable size and, as such, it is quite an expensive plant to buy. However, given that the plant is almost indestructible and typically lives for decades, you are likely to get good longevity for your money.

Aspidistra Minor

Aspidistra elatior minor
Aspidistra elatior minor

This Cast Iron Plant is also nicknamed ‘Milky Way,’ thanks to its light speckled markings on the leaves. The base foliage color is an almost black dark green, providing the background for the Milky Way. Contrasting white spots are scattered across the leaves, giving an unusual and attractive appearance. This variety is a smaller form of the Cast Iron Plant and has shorter leaves and overall height.

Aspidistra Elatior Okame

This striking Cast Iron Plant has dark green leaves striped with vertical white lines. It is one of the most popular variegated varieties of this plant but is even more slowing than the non-variegated varieties, and so can be even more costly to buy. It has the same care requirements as other Aspidistra but does benefit from a little more light than usual to keep the markings looking vibrant.

Aspidistra Elatior 'Goldfeather'

This rare variety of Cast Iron Plant is more winter hardy than most other varieties and is even described as a fast-growing plant, setting it apart from its relatives. It has long dark green leaves with subtle pale green and yellow vertical stripes and grows to 30 inches.

Aspidistra Elatior 'Asahi'

This Cast Iron Plant is named ‘Asahi,’ which translates to ‘Morning Sun.’ It is very winter hardy and makes a good choice for bringing some vibrancy to winter gardens due to its unusual and bright markings. The large evergreen leaves of this plant develop white tips late into the growing season. The bold marking sticks around all winter long, brightening up dark areas of the garden. This Cast Iron Plant will do best when planted directly in the ground. Unlike other varieties, it does not particularly like living in a pot and will not produce the white markings when grown in containers.

Aspidistra Elatior Variegata

Aspidistra elatior variegata
Aspidistra Elatior Variegata - Credit to frau-doktor

This variegated variety of Cast Iron Plant has stunning creamy white foliage with some pale green and yellow markings. It requires more light than other varieties to maintain its vibrant markings and can be more sensitive to extreme temperatures. Its growth is even slower than typical Cast Iron Plants and, therefore, can be quite difficult to find, and expensive to buy.

Which variety do you enjoy most? Do you have any questions about Cast Iron Plants? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share this page with others who might be interested!

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra Elatior) - Growing And Caring Guide

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