If you're looking for a hardy and forgiving houseplant, then look no further than the cast iron plant.
Also known by plant enthusiasts by it's latin name Aspidistra eliator, this plant has a long and storied history, having been cultivated since the early Victorian era.
In this guide, you'll learn exactly how to plant, care for, and troubleshoot this old-fashioned house plant.
Let's get started!
History of the Cast Iron Plant
Most people think that the cast iron plant came from China, but in fact it's actually native to Japan, where it covers large swaths of land.
During the early Victorian era, it came to fame as one of the most widely cultivated houseplants. It has a distinct look, with green or variegated broad leaves that drape around the pot it's planted in.
Types of Cast Iron Plants
There are a few different cultivars that you may be interested in when deciding to grow the cast iron plant:
Asahi means morning sun, which is fitting for this variety that starts out brown and turns green from the base of the leaves upwards.
Meaning starry sky, this variety has small white speckles reminiscent of the night sky (if the night sky had a green backdrop).
This variety was named after its cultivator, Robin Lennon and not the Lennon of Beatles fame. Has a light white-green stripe in the middle.
Light-cream stripes run up and down the length of these leaves, making it a true variegated cultivar of the cast iron plant.
Planting Aspidistra Eliator
It’s a slow growing plant, so if you want one of any substantial size, it’s best to just purchase it. These plants can reach just over 3 feet in height.
The variegated variety generally costs about twice as much as the standard green variety. But, the white contrast on the dark green leaves might be worth paying extra for. It’s a really pretty plant that doesn’t require a lot of care.
Occasionally, the Cast Iron plant will flower when kept indoors, but this is very rare. When it does, the plant produces groups of small flowers near, or slightly under the top of the soil that are purplish brown in color. Because of the location of the star shaped flowers, often they aren’t even noticed.
Caring For and Cultivating
The cast iron plant is known as a houseplant that is "tolerant of neglect."
If you're like me, those three words are music to your ears! This is a plant that grows well in many different environments, meaning that you can forget about it for a while and it will do just fine.
That said, there are some general guidelines you should be aware of when caring for your Aspidistra eliator.
Cast iron plants do well in any lighting environment except for total darkness or bright, direct sunlight. This makes it an excellent choice for both a houseplant and for shady areas of the garden or yard.
The soil should be allowed to dry out to around one or two inches of the surface before watering.
In low light areas, it’s not uncommon for the plant to only need water every few weeks.
The main reason that houseplant hobbyists fail with the cast iron plant is too much water. Like many other types of plants, the cast iron plant is very susceptible to root rot.
Make sure that you provide good drainage so that the plants roots are never sitting in water. The ideal solution is to use a plant with a drainage hole which allow the excess water to drain into a saucer.
Be sure to empty the saucer from time to time to prevent the soil from remaining too wet.
The plant needs to be fertilized on a monthly basis with a high quality liquid fertilizer. One that is designed specifically for houseplants is ideal.
However, if you have the variegated variety, make sure that you don’t over feed it. Too much fertilizer will literally cause the plant to lose it’s variegation! The leaves will all end up dark green. Who knew, right?
Propagation of this plant is done through root division. When the plant is well established with lots of leaves, you can separate it into several plants.
- Take the plant out of the pot and carefully separate the root ball into sections.
- Place each section in a pot filled with a good quality potting mix and water thoroughly.
- After a few months, you should begin to notice some new growth.
Most gardeners grow the cast iron plant as an indoor houseplant, but you can plant it with a few different plants with great results as well:
- Foam Flower
- Flax Lily
Pests and Diseases
The hardiness of the cast iron plant extends to its pest and disease tolerance. It's not affected by too many of either, but there are a few pesky pests and diseases that can still cripple your plant if you don't keep a watchful eye.
Spider mites are one of the most annoying pests for indoor gardeners. They can absolutely decimate any plant they infest in a short amount of time.
If your cast iron plant has spider mites, either grab a specialized spider mite spray or spray down your plant with water and a bit of soap to kill off the mites.
While there are a lot of ways to get rid of mealy bugs on your cast iron plant, insecticidal soaps or neem oil are the most common ways gardeners prevent these annoying pests.
Most of the diseases that affect this plant cause leaf spots and are easily prevented by keeping air circulation high and the leaves of the plant dry.
Q. My cast iron plant leaves are turning yellow one at a time. What's happening?
A: If you've recently repotted your plant, it could simply be adjusting to its new environment. Another issue could be a lack of (or too much) water, so test the soil for adequate moisture levels.
Q. How often should I cut back my Aspidistra to keep it under control?
A: This is a personal preference issue, but the general guideline is to cut it back once a year. A lot of gardeners also hand-prune individual leaves as they begin to look unhealthy.