Aspidistra is an extremely hardy tropical plant that originated in China. It became popular during the Victorian era as a bank lobby, hotel lobby or barroom plant, due to its ability to withstand neglect. Slow-growing and able to thrive in conditions of drought, little light, temperature variation and poor soil, it became known as the cast-iron plant. The Aspidistra is an evergreen with shiny, blade-shaped, dark green, spotted or striped leaves that reach 10 to 36 inches long, depending on the variation. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, there are anywhere from eight to more than 30 species of Aspidistra, though only a small number of these are commonly available as of 2011.
The most common and easiest-to-find cast-iron plant is the original Aspidistra elatior, from the word "Elat," which means "exalted," and "ior," meaning "to a greater degree." The Aspidistra elatior is the hardiest of the elatior varieties. It is characterised by glossy, dark-green leaves that can reach 3 feet in length and 5 inches in width. The Aspidistra elatior Variegata, or Okame, features white- or light-green-streaked leaves. It is difficult to grow and maintain, in comparison to the all-green variety.
Aspidistra lurida, in variations known as Ginga or Starry Night, features leaves that are as long as A. elatior, but they are narrower, at 3 inches or fewer. The shiny green leaves of the A. lurida Ginga feature white- or cream-coloured spots and streaks. The Milky Way variation also features the streaks and spots of the Ginga but has shorter, narrower, matt leaves. The Milky Way is sometimes listed as elatior, as is the Ginga Dwarf, or Spotted Cast Iron Plant. The Ginga Dwarf grows in 10- to 15-inch clumps of dark green leaves with irregular cream-to-yellow spots. This variation is easy to grow and ideal for shade or lowlight indoor areas.
Aspidistra caespitosa is a recent species, becoming more widely available in 2009. The Jade Ribbons cultivar features very narrow, half-inch leaf spears, which can grow up to 24 inches in length. The medium-green Jade Ribbons is especially sought-after for floral design. It is slow-growing and hardy, as are other Aspidistra species. Like all Aspidistra, Jade Ribbons does best in shade and well-drained soil that is allowed to dry out between watering.