Aspidistra elatior

Aspidistra elatior

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 cm or more tall. Over time, it will grow into a wide clump. 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.

Aspidistra elatior with other shade-loving plants at Central Park, Sydney

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.

Variegated form of Aspidistra elatior

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' and Ctenanthe lubbersiana . There is a white-striped version of this Aspidistra, called 'Variegata' (or possibly more correctly 'Okame'). It does not seem to grow as robustly as the species, in my experience, 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. A speckled form with shorter leaves was originally known as A. elatior 'Milky Way' but has been reclassified as A. lurida 'Ginga'. Aspidistra leaves are excellent for use in cut-flower arrangements.