Aspidistra elatior

Family: Asparagaceae

Countries: Asia, China, Japan, Taiwan

Aspidistra elatior is a herbaceous perennial from China, Japan, and Taiwan.  This species produces large lance shaped leaves in a dark bottle green colour with a lovely glossy finish.  If you fancy something a bit different, look out for variegated, spotted, or striped leaf forms, which are sometimes available from specialist houseplant nurseries and online auction sites.

Plants bloom each year in the wild; occasionally, indoor plants will also flower, but this doesn’t happen very often.  Aspidistra elatior blooms are produced at the base of the plant, low down at soil level; this is the area to examine, if you’re looking for Aspidistra elatior‘s chocolatey-purple coloured blooms, not above the leaves as you might expect.  I’ve found that younger Aspidistra elatior plants, growing in larger pots, tend to be more likely to bloom, but in my experience, indoor plants are much less likely to flower.

Aspidistra elatior is an evergreen rhizomatous perennial with quite tough and resilient leaves.  These plants are very tolerant of drought and neglect, which has given rise to Aspidistra elatior‘s common name – the Cast Iron Plant.

Positively thriving in shaded rooms and growing happily in dimly lit conditions that most other plants would refuse to tolerate, Aspidistra elatior are such valuable houseplants.  If the rooms inside your home are particularly shaded, this traditional Aspidistra elatior form, with its dark green leaves would be the best choice of cultivar for your situation.  Spotted or stripped Aspidistras would be another alternative for shaded and semi-shaded growing conditions.  However, the variegated forms of Aspidistra elatior all require slightly brighter conditions, as these plants have less chlorophyll – the green pigment – in their leaves and so they’re unable to sustain themselves sufficiently through photosynthesis in areas with very low light levels; accordingly, lighter rooms are preferable for variegated Aspidistra plants.  All of these Aspidistras favour indirect light; avoid siting your Aspidistra in an area that is lit by harsh or direct light.

One of the characteristics that make Aspidistra elatior so amazing is their ability to grow in what can only be classed as unfavourable conditions.  These plants thrive in shade, they’re incredibly tolerant of neglect and are very forgiving if you forget to water them.  Aspidistra elatior grows happily in a wide range of temperatures; plants thrive in warm rooms, but they’ll also survive temperatures down as low as 0C (32F), and reportedly down to around -5C (23F).  I’ve never subjected my plants to such chilly temperatures, so I can’t vouch for or guarantee this.

I’ve read that Aspidistra are tolerant of very dry, arid conditions, but over the years, I’ve found that my Aspidistra elatior plant is happiest when I mist its leaves at least once or twice a week.  I grow my Aspidistra elatior in peat-free compost; I’ve found these plants to be happy growing in a range of peat-free composts.

Aspidistra foliage is comprised of large leaves, which can become rather dusty, which isn’t a good look.  The dust can also prevent your plant from taking in enough light energy through its leaves, so it’s a good idea to wipe over Aspidistra elatior leaves a couple of times a month, to keep the leaves clean, shiny, and looking their best.  You could pop your plants out to enjoy a summer rain shower, or shower your plant in your bathroom, in wintertime.  Alternatively, a wipe over with a small piece of damp kitchen paper will do the trick.  Use a fresh piece of kitchen paper to wipe over each leaf, (when I say a piece, I don’t mean use a whole sheet, you only need small fragment of kitchen roll – a corner will be fine) so as to avoid spreading pests, like spider mites, from one leaf to another.

Aspidistra elatior grows up to around 60cm (2ft) tall.  These plants tend to be rather narrow, especially at the base of the plant.  The majority of this plant’s growth is vertical, with leaves becoming more graceful and arching, as the plants mature.  This allows Aspidistra elatior to easily be accommodated as part of a more substantial houseplant planting, or as one of a group of a number of houseplants, all gathered together in a cluster, but growing in their own individual containers.

Spider mites can be a problem, on Aspidistra elatior plants, particularly over the winter months.  If spider mites are a problem on your Aspidistra elatior, orchids, or houseplants, here’s some advice on how to control these pests.

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