Some plants receive common names concerning how well they succeed in the garden. One plant that deserves its name is the Aspidistra or “Cast Iron Plant”. Hardy and shade-loving, the cast-iron plant makes a great groundcover that slowly fills in an area without being invasive. Originally from China, this Victorian favorite comes in a number of varieties from dark green to variegated patterns.
Basically, the cast iron plant, a member of the lily family, has simple, twelve to twenty-inch leaves, with smooth margins and parallel veins. The leaves emerge from a rhizome as the plant develops into a clump. Cast iron plants are famous for their ability to grow in low light (even heavy shade), high heat, poor soil and even some drought. This plant really cannot tolerate sunny areas but does compete well with tree roots. Good drainage is essential but having the very best soil is not. While you can fertilize sparingly during the growing season, you can also neglect this chore and still have good looking plants. Start with potted transplants set in the landscape at twelve-to-eighteen-inch intervals. You can also take established plants and divide the rhizomes. Water until established, but keep in mind that cast iron plants are very drought tolerant.
During the Victorian era, cast iron plants were grown as an indoor container plant. The cast iron plant will make a good container plant inside or outdoors on a shady porch or patio. Also consider that the leaves of the cast iron plant make great additions to a flower arrangement. As a matter of fact, they will last in a vase as filler for at least a month.
There are a number of cultivars to choose from and you will be surprised by the selection. The cast iron plant is occasionally available locally, but an Internet search will help you locate some of the rarer types. One that I have seen available locally is called ‘Starry Night’ also known as ‘Ginga’. This cultivar has shiny green leaves with creamy-white spots and streaks. ‘Milky Way’ is another speckled type similar to ‘Ginga’ but has shorter and narrower leaf blades. ‘Milky Way’ was even recognized as a Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) 2006 Florida Plant of the Year. ‘Okame’ or ‘Variegata’ is another cultivar that has light green and white streaked markings. This cultivar tends to grow slow, and the color is variable and can even revert back to pure green. There are many other varieties which range in color and leaf blade length and width. Grown mainly for their foliage, the cast-iron plant does produce unique, maroon-colored flowers near the base of the plant.
So, if you have a shady area where nothing else seems to grow, you might check out the cast iron plant – it is as tough as cast iron! Not only does it take the shade, it loves the shade and prefers it! For more information on this Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant and all types of plants known to be shade-tolerant, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
Stamps, R. H. (2012) Aspidistra Production and Use. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. Klein, R. W. & Hansen, G. (2022) Aspidistra elatior Cast Iron Plant. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA) (2006) Florida Plants of the Year.
Harrison, M. (2015) Cast Iron Plant Excels in Shady Gardens. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okaloosa County.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2019) Cast Iron Plant. The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.