The cast iron plant is also called Aspidistra elatior. It is native to the Eastern Himalayas, China, Japan, and Taiwan. It is classified as a tender perennial and is often grown as a houseplant. It is hardy from zones eleven through seven b. Cast iron plants have long underground rhizomatic stems, large and long radial leaves that are shiny green. Purplish brown, small flowers grow close to the ground in summer but flowers are seldom produced. These plants are grown for their foliage. Variegated varieties are available. These plants may live fifty years or more if properly cared for. There name comes from the fact that they are so hardy.
Cast iron plants grow twenty-four to thirty-six inches tall and twenty-four to thirty-six inches wide. They are slow growing and it may take a few years for the plant to reach this size.
They require good light but not direct sun to grow well. They are often grown in the darker, colder areas of a house where other houseplants do not do well. They will tolerate low light conditions but their leaves will not be as shiny. Cast iron plants will be much more attractive is kept in ideal conditions. They prefer temperatures of 50-55 degrees at night and 70-75 degrees in the daytime. The variegated version of the cast iron plant will not do well in poor light. It requires good light to maintain its white stripes.
Cast iron plants can be planted in a good potting soil made for African Violets. They like to be kept moist but will survive a few missed waterings. They grow much better when watered regularly, however. Do not keep the soil soggy, as that will also kill the plant. Let it dry out a bit between waterings.
They should be fertilized with a water soluble fertilizer mixed half strength every three to four months in low light conditions, or monthly in high light conditions.
Cast iron plants resent being disturbed and should only be repotted every three to four years. More frequent repotting can actually kill the plant. This is an ideal time to propogate the plant by dividing the tuberous root into pieces, with each piece having two or three stems on it.
It is possible to get cast iron plants to flower. It is rare, and only mature plants product flowers. They are produced at the soil line because they are pollinated by slugs and snails in their natural environment. The flower will last several weeks.
Pests are not a significant problem with the cast iron plant. It is susceptible to leaf spotting diseases.
Outside, cast iron plants can be grown on twelve inch centers to form a nice ground cover. They should be sheltered from wind as the leaves easily become wind burned. They will also burn up in the direct sun. They should be placed in a place they receive bright but indirect light. They will also live in partial shade outside, but the variegated version will lose its stripes in the shade. It is also not as hardy as the normal version.