Cast-Iron Plant: Still Going Strong

This old-fashioned addition to the home or garden is tough to beat.
Aspidistra elatior  (05) Landscape

Aspidistra elatior (05) Landscape

Cast-iron plant makes a great border plant and as a ground cover, it can be easily divided. 

Cast-iron plant makes a great border plant and as a ground cover, it can be easily divided. 

Cast-iron plant couldn’t be more aptly named. This evergreen, used extensively in Victorian times as a houseplant and now outdoors as a deep-shade ground cover, is one tough dude.

Also known as iron plant and barroom plant, this native of China features long, oval-shaped, pointed dark green leaves that emerge from the soil with seemingly no stems and grow to two feet. A member of the lily family, cast-iron plant, Aspidistra elatior—to the surprise of many—does, in fact, bloom. But its small purplish flower opens close to the ground, so often it’s overshadowed by the foliage and hardly noticeable to most.

Cast-iron plant most commonly is grown under oaks and other shade trees throughout the Southeast but has been known to thrive as far north as New Jersey. With its dark evergreen foliage, cast-iron plant makes a great back-of-the-border background for smaller flowering shade plants, such as impatiens. For the same reason, the long pointed leaves lend a nice structural accent in cut-flower arrangements. And, as the Victorians realized, it’s the perfect low-maintenance houseplant.

In addition to the old-fashioned variety, there’s a variegated cultivar, the white-striped ‘Variegata’, and a dwarf type, ‘Minor’, with white-spotted leaves.

Even though it’s a spreader, know that cast-iron plant is a slow grower. But what it lacks in speed it more than makes up for in ease of maintenance. It will tolerate wet soil, dry soil, dark spaces, heat  and sub-freezing temperatures. What it prefers are temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and 50 to 55 at night with low, indirect light, and evenly moist soil. Over time, the plants can become leggy. Keep them sturdy by pruning at the base of the plant every few years and divide them as they become too thick.