Aspidistra elatior is often called the cast-iron plant because it survives almost any conditions. It was often grown as a houseplant, as it could survive infrequent watering in dark rooms. However, in our mild Sydney climate, we can grow it as a very effective foliage plant outdoors in a dry, shaded spot or in pots. In sunny spots, the leaves become horribly bleached. It is a rhizomatous perennial from southern Japan with long, wide leaves, growing up to about 50-75 cm tall. Over time, it will grow into a wide clump, but it isn't invasive. The star-shaped flowers are produced at the base of the plant and are often not noticed. The plant is regarded as frost hardy to about -10 degrees Celsius.
There seem to be no pest or disease problems. The only maintenance required is to remove very old, shabby leaves and throw it some fertiliser in late winter. Propagation is by division of the clumps. Opinions have varied as to whether this plant belongs to the Convallariaceae or Liliaceae family; current thinking places it in the family Asparagaceae.
The plant is useful as a foil to gold-variegated plants that grow well in shade, such as variegated forms of Abutilon and Euonymus japonicus. It also looks effective when grown with coloured-foliage plants of a similar shape, such as Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star'. The bold, solid form of Aspidistra is also an excellent contrast to ferns. There is a white-striped version of Aspidistra elatior, called 'Variegata' (or possibly more correctly 'Okame'; ht to 1 m). It needs a bit more light than the plain species, but is a good companion to shade-tolerant plants with white flowers, to echo the leaf variegation. It seems to need a bit more moisture in its early years - once established it is pretty drought tolerant. There is also a rare cultivar called 'Equinox' with leaves divided into half green and half white, although apparently this variegation can be unstable. A speckled form with shorter leaves was originally known as A. elatior 'Milky Way' but has been reclassified as A. lurida 'Ginga' (ht 45 cm). The variegated forms seem slower growing than the species. Aspidistra leaves are excellent for use in cut-flower arrangements.