Cast iron plant

Aspidistra eliatorI keep getting distracted from my intention to talk about some of our favorite houseplants so without further ado, I give you Aspidistra eliator – the Cast Iron Plant.  The common name pretty much says it all.  This is probably the toughest houseplant on any planet.  It’s also probably one of the most boring, ridiculed and difficult to find to buy.  It’s an original passalong plant lurking in a corner of your best friend’s back bedroom.

evidence of kittens and sunburn on my aspidistra

Aspidistras can tolerate temperatures ranging from 28 to 100 degrees F, low light and air pollution making them ideal plants for any inner city cave dweller.  They also thrive on benign neglect (water when the soil looks dry) and aren’t pest magnets (unless you count kittens) making them the perfect plant for anyone with a multicolored thumb.

Aspidistras, native to woodlands of China, the Himalayas and Japan, became a requisite dark corner decoration during the Victorian era.  Since then, its popularity has waned but in certain circles, especially in the UK, they are still a familiar and occasionally publicly mocked member of the household.  Aspidistra was an emblem of mediocrity in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying and a character called “Uncle”, The Rangdo of Arg (animated by Kenny Baker, also known for playing R2D2) in a weird 1980’s British game show called The Adventure Game.

An aspidistra break outWhen Uncle is ready to be shared with friends and neighbors, he lets you know by busting out of the pot.  Aspidistras increase slowly but steadily by rhizomes (fleshy stems just under and at the soil level) and are easily divided with a hori-hori, a hacksaw or your burliest kitchen knife.  Remember, as you grab and hack, these plants are tough-as-nails, indestructible as a daylily.  Rumor has it that they produce a prettyish tulip like flower near the soil that’s pollinated by tiny terrestrial crustaceans (according to wikipedia) but I’ve never seen one.  But then again my plant is tucked in a corner, molested by kittens and I hardly ever gaze deeply at it.  It’s just the best houseplant!

Do you have a cast iron plant?  Does it have a name?

5 thoughts on “Cast iron plant

  1. Nope, not a cast iron plant in the house…..but you already know I re-name other plants, PPPP, The Susans… so you can be sure if I had one it would have a name! gail

    Gail, This is one you could give to the cat! The next time you come up, I’ll give you a piece if you’d like to try it. Think of it as a naming opportunity for the indoor Garden of Benign Neglect. -kris

  2. Yep, I’ve got several large clumps of them growing outside in the garden. They regularly tolerate temps higher than 100 degrees here in Austin, although they must have full shade. They’re frequently overlooked or even despised by gardeners because they’re so common, but they’re one of the rare big-leaf plants that grow well here in dry shade, so I like them for those hard-to-fill, narrow, shady spots and for a lush backdrop to more interesting plants.

    Pam, Thank you for the correction – I thought I might be understating their heat tolerance! I wish we could use them here year-round for our difficult dry shady places. I’m getting a germ of idea to plant a few for the growing season in our “hard-to-fill, narrow, shady spots”… Why not?! -kris

  3. I don’t have one. Why? Indestructible works here! Another on the list.

    Layanee, I’ll put in on a list of things to pass-along to you. Let me know when you’re headed this way again! -kris

  4. Cracking up at the kitten photo… And it’s funny, I have to say, how it’s super-boring as a houseplant, and yet when you consider a mass of them as groundcover under mature oaks, big, glossy leaves rattling in the breeze it’s a different story, isn’t it? Funny how that is. I know we’ll never be able to grow them outside to that extent here, but I do like to poke and prod at the extent to which we can grow them outside…

  5. Andrew, A couple of years ago I suggested planting a few in our “dry shade” bed… just to see … because you’re right, their deep green rattle-y foliage would be extra special in the right spot. Now that I know you’ve had some success, I might push a little harder. I did figure that since we have a few fairly sizable ones boringly busting out of their pots, we could easily risk a little loss – at worst, it would lighten our load! -kris

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