Aspidistra is a family of between eight and 30 species of perennial evergreen herbs native to Asia. The most commonly seen species, Aspidistra elatior, is typically called the cast-iron plant because it is difficult to kill. Growers cultivate aspidistras for their attractive foliage and plant them in containers or as accents.
Aspidistra elatior plants grow between 2 and 3 feet high with a 1- to 2-foot spread and a clumping form. Their deep green, leathery lance-shaped leaves grow from the roots on long individual stems. Each leaf ranges from 12 to 20 inches long. Brownish-purple blossoms form at the soil level and are barely noticeable because they are hidden by the foliage. Small berries occasionally follow the flowers. Houseplants usually do not produce blossoms.
Similar Aspidistra Species and Cultivars
Aspidistra caespitosa "Jade Ribbons" has long, narrow leaves. Aspidistra lurida "Starry Night" or "Ginga" plants have dark green foliage covered in white spots and streaks. Their leaves are usually about the same length as Aspidistra elatior, but are narrower in width. Aspidistra elatior "Minor" is a dwarf version of Aspidistra elatior. "Okame" has leaves with light green and white markings, while "Variegata" produces dark green and white striped leaves. "Milky Way," another Aspidistra elatior cultivar, has white lines and spots with narrow, short blades and dull foliage.
Caring for Aspidistra
Aspidistras are shade-loving plants that grow well in low light conditions, which makes them ideal houseplants. They can adapt to a wide range of humidity levels and temperatures and are highly drought-tolerant. In addition, they have few maintenance needs. These plants grow best in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil and benefit from occasional fertilisation during the growing season. They are cold-hardy in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7 through 10, but you can cultivate them as indoor houseplants in any area of the country.
Benefits and Liabilities
Aspidistra plants are both non-toxic and deer-resistant. They cannot tolerate bright sunlight; their leaves fade if exposed to sunlight for extended periods. Slugs, snails and caterpillars chew holes in the leaves, while mites, scale insects and aphids drain sap from the foliage. Infested leaves become yellowed or discoloured and may fall from the plant. Over-watered plants are at risk of developing root rot, while fungal leaf spot diseases create unsightly spots on the foliage.
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