The cast-iron plant or aspidistra elatior is an extremely hardy plant that’s known for its hardiness and resilience.
It features dark green leaves that grow upright from an underground rhizome. The cast-iron plant can also be used in landscaping as a ground cover under trees or as a background plant in a flower bed.
Indoors, the cast-iron plant is an attractive plant that will grow even in lower light conditions.
If you need a tolerant plant that has lush green foliage nonetheless, the cast-iron plant certainly lives up to its name.
Cast-Iron Plant Care Tips
Just because you’re dealing with a highly tolerant and tough plant, it doesn’t mean that you can get a free pass in making mistakes when caring for this plant.
Like any other houseplant, it has certain requirements that ought to be met to ensure optimum development.
Here are my cast-iron plant care tips that will help you grow a healthy plant:
Cast-iron plants grown indoors usually stay at a medium height, not growing larger than 24 inches in length and width.
In their natural habitat of the forest floors of Japan and Taiwan, the cast-iron plant can reach 3 feet in height.
Cast-iron plants don’t require too much light, and especially no direct light.
The plant does best near north-facing windows, but you can keep them anywhere in your home where there is adequate light, just don’t put them in windowsills where they might get too much direct sunlight and end up with burnt leaves.
If you’re growing cast-iron plants outdoors, make sure you place them in a shady area, where they’re not exposed to direct sunlight.
This is in no way a thirsty plant, quite the opposite, cast-iron plants do relatively well even if their soil dries out.
That said, it’s not optimal for them to go without water all the time but allowing the soil to dry out before watering is a good rule to follow to prevent the deadly root rot that’s a threat for many houseplants.
Overwatering should be one of your chief concerns. Make sure the pot in which you’re keeping the cast-iron plant has draining holes on the bottom.
Temperature & Humidity
Cast-iron plants are tolerant of quite a range of temperatures. As such, they’ll put up with temperatures between 45 F and 85 F. Being tolerant of arid conditions as well, they aren’t dependent on humidity either.
If you’re keeping these plants outside for the summer, do take them in before the first frost to ensure they don’t get damaged by the cold and to allow them to hibernate at a temperature within their range.
The cast iron plant isn’t particular about its soil either. Any well-draining potting mix will do, but if you want to get specific, you can use potting soil on compost base.
This is for plants grown indoors. Outdoors, plant in sandy or clay soil.
Fertilize only during the growing season, every two weeks or so. Use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer and don’t fertilize in winter and fall.
These are slow-growing plants, so even though you’re fertilizing, don’t worry if you don’t notice any impressive growth. They tend to grow slowly even when fertilized.
Potting & Repotting
Cast-iron plants don’t require frequent repotting. Sometimes, they can go as many as 4 years without repotting.
Even so, I recommend repotting every other year or as needed. Once the plant outgrows its current pot, you’ll notice that the plant’s roots will start to poke out from the soil. Best time to repot is during springtime.
Cast-Iron Plant Propagation
Cast-iron plants can be propagated through division. It’s best to carry out this task when you’re repotting so that you don’t needlessly bother the plant.
When dividing cast-iron plants by their rhizomes, use your hands to gently pull apart sensitive roots. Make sure that there are 2-3 stems on each root group.
Prepare a potting mix for the new plant and keep the soil moist and warm until new shoots appear.
Bear in mind that cast-iron plants are slow to grow, so you’ll have to wait a while both for the mother plant to grow to a stage when you can divide her, but also for the new divisions to grow and develop.
Different Types of Cast-Iron Plants
Some of the cast-iron plants are variegated, some dotted others are striped making for interesting and vibrant choices.
Here are the top cast-iron plant varieties:
This is the most common variety you’re bound to come across when searching for cast-iron plants. It has shiny dark leaves that average around 20 inches in length.
Because of its slow growth, it takes quite a bit of time for the plant to be “sale-ready”, so these plants come with a higher price tag than your average houseplant.
Aspidistra Elatior ‘Okame’
This cast-iron plant variety is a variegated type with dark green as the leaf’s color base and vertical white lines across the leaf.
Unlike other varieties, this aspidistra requires a bit more sunlight to boast its beautiful stripes.
Aspidistra Elatior ‘Asahi’
Technically, this cast-iron plant is also a variegated one, but the white stripes are mostly concentrated only at the tip of the leaves.
The ‘Asahi’ word in its name translates to ‘morning sun’, due to its unusual white marking on the tips of leaves.
This variety has a good tolerance to cold and it’s suitable for winter ganders. Unfortunately, if grown in a pot, its white marking may disappear or fail to appear altogether.
Nicknamed the Milky way cast-iron plant, this variety stands out through its light speckled leaves that contrast well with the dark green leaf base, creating a starry sky-like appearance.
This type of cast-iron plant is also shorter than its counterparts and its leaves are also smaller.
Aspidistra Elatior ‘Goldfeather’
If you’re looking for a fast-growing cast-iron plant, I can recommend the Goldfeather variety, which grows faster than other varieties.
It has dark green leaves that are vertically striped with white and golden yellow.
These are the most popular cast-iron types you’re bound to come across in your search for cast-iron plants, and as you can see, there are some interesting choices from the classical dark green leaf colors to speckled varieties.
Cast-Iron Plant FAQs
Want to learn more about this though plant? Here are some questions and answers to deepen your knowledge:
Why are Cast-Iron Plant Leaves Turning Yellow?
Yellowing leaves on cast-iron plants is usually a sign of too much exposure to light or a bad watering schedule. Sometimes, spider mite infestation can also cause yellowing of the leaves.
Since there are a couple of things that can each have yellowing leaves as a symptom, make sure to check your cast-iron plant for all these issues.
Is the Cast-Iron Plant Toxic for Pets?
No, according to the ASPCA website, cast-iron plants are not toxic to cats, dogs or humans. Therefore, there are no special arrangements you need to make to keep these plants in your home if you own pets or have small children.
Still, for the sake of your plants, you may still want to keep them away from pets that will claw at them.
What is the Lifespan of Cast-Iron Plants?
If they’re kept in optimal conditions, cast-iron plants can live for decades. These are though plants, that aren’t sensitive to a few lost waterings or temperature changes. It’s not by accident then, that as virtually indestructible plants, they received a name to reflect their strength and resilience.
What Diseases can Affect Cast-Iron Plants?
Cast-iron plants are generally healthy and even have a good tolerance to pests, they’re not, however, immune to all diseases and pests, and they can be affected by the following pests and diseases:
- Leaf blotch – presents as brown or black spots that expand until the leaves fall off.
- Spider mites – presents as sticky, spider-web-like substance on the base of the leaves.
- Other insects and pests like mealybugs and scale can also appear occasionally.
Neem oil and other fungicides and insecticides can help get rid of pest and insect attacks.
A more common issue with cast-iron plants is overwatering. Medium to heavy overwatering can cause the rhizomes of the plant to rot, which will soon be followed by the demise of the entire plant.
Cast-iron plants are a great choice for dry homes or for indoor gardeners short on time. These aren’t maintenance heavy plants and can do well even in lower light conditions. Some cast-iron plants have a better cold tolerance than most houseplants and they’re not as prone to diseases or pest problems either.
In your search for cast-iron plants, you may have noticed that they’re more expensive than your run-of-the-mill houseplants. The higher price is in part owed to the slow growing process, which means that it takes a while to get the plant into a saleable condition.
Whether you’re picking up a cast-iron plant for indoors or outdoors landscaping, make sure to check that your variety is suitable for the objective you have in mind.