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Houseplant Care for Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant)

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The cast iron plant, or Aspidistra, is typically used as an interior floor plant.

The cast iron plant, or Aspidistra, is typically used as an interior floor plant.

Cast Iron? How Did a Green Leafy Plant Obtain Such a Coarse Handle?

The cast iron plant, or Aspidistra, is typically used as an interior floor plant that can survive under conditions most other plants would find intolerable.

It is never recommended to put any plant in a situation where it is receiving no light, but (hypothetically) if it was necessary, Aspidistra might survive that and would fare best over time in such an environment.

It is also never recommended to neglect interior foliar plants, but (hypothetically) if there was a need to pay no attention to your plant for months, Aspidistra is also the plant that you would be looking for. It is not uncommon to find an abandoned Aspidistra that looks as if time has stood still for it, while other plant types that were left alongside are nearly dust.

This incredible ability to survive on nearly nothing, with little-to-no care, is what has earned this plant the common name cast iron. It really could be the plant that would survive a nuclear holocaust. As an interior plant, it is generally more pricey than some of the others, like the Sansevieria or Aglonema, but that cost is based on slow growth and the long-lasting value of this green juggernaut.

The cast iron plant is certainly very hardy in some rather foreboding conditions from the perspective of the plant world, but it is not indestructible. This super-houseplant can be destroyed by its own form of kryptonite—there are some critical environmental conditions to avoid, basic care to adhere to, and pests to be on the lookout for.

Potted Aspidistra elatior plant.

Potted Aspidistra elatior plant.

The Ideal Interior Space for Aspidistra

Aspidistra can tolerate low-light conditions much better than most plants.

Conversely, these plants may struggle in hot, high-intensity light conditions. They have a tendency to become chlorotic (yellowing of leaves) quickly in such conditions and have trouble finding a good moisture balance.

Cast Iron and Spider Mites

Cast iron plants are susceptible to spider mites, and spider mites absolutely love dry heat.

  • Heat and air conditioning vents are especially good at spreading mites to plants nearby.
  • If an Aspidistra is kept in low light, this problem can be avoided.
  • In both high and moderate light, heat, and airflow conditions, Aspidistra should be checked regularly for spider mites.

Spider mites live on the backside of the the leaves of cast irons, and they easily spin their webbing in between the slight ridges on the foliage. Spider mites can be a bit more difficult to see on an Aspidistra than some other plants they infest as they nestle into the back of the leaves.

Wipe the back of the leaf with a paper towel or baby wipe. If the cloth is green, there are mites. You may also notice that your plant begins to look dull and may have little yellow and brown stippling all over the leaf. This is another indicator that mites may be present.

Aside from checking for mites, it is a good idea to regularly clean most plants, and Aspidistra are no exception.

It is best to hand wipe the leaves as opposed to using a duster. This will avoid spreading the mites to other plants.

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Water and Aspidistra

Another common issue for Aspidistra is water.

This plant can happily go much longer periods between watering than most other foliar interior plants. It is very common to see Aspidistra with overwatering damage: brown tips and yellow and green mottled leaves. It is very easy to overwater one, especially if you treat it like any other houseplant—it requires far less attention than most other foliar plants and will react badly if it receives too much.

Make sure it has an ample drying period between watering. In most interior situations, it is not recommended to water the cast iron plant through to the liner, because it has rhizomal roots that travel horizontally across the soil surface and tap roots that go down from there. Watering until the soil surface area is consistently moist should be enough.

If your plant has developed some brown tips, don't be too hard on yourself. Even experienced horticulturalists have been known to cause brown tips. Fortunately, the Aspidistra is one plant that affords the luxury of trimming back those brown tips to restore the vibrant green look.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why are the leaves of my Aspidistra turning yellow?

Answer: Some of the most probable reasons for the yellowing of Aspidistra leaves are inconsistent water, deplorable light conditions, high light conditions, or Spider Mite infestation (very common, especially in hot, dry conditions).

Question: My plant has white powdery looking stuff on some of the leaves. What could this be and is it destroying the plant?

Answer: There are a few things that may be the source of your problem. A possibility is Mealy Bug. If it is Mealy Bug the “white powdery” stuff (which is the bugs) would be concentrated at the base of the leaves. Another possibility could be build up from minerals collected from moisture while the plant was in the nursery, this can be cleaned away with a light solution of dish soap & warm water. Another possibility could be powdery mildew, this would show up disbursed over the surface of the leaves, also clean away with dish soap & water solution, and check the environment of the plant. If it is in a high humidity space that allows moisture to build up in the surface of the leaves, the plant will need to be moved to a space that has optimum airflow and keeps the surface of the leaves dry.

Question: How often should I water my Aspidistra plant?

Answer: To determine how often your Aspidistra will require watering you will need to water it and then check the moisture level in the soil weekly until the soil has become mostly dry then water again accordingly. There is no standard answer on how often since different environments will cause a plant to use water at different rates. Aspidistra tend to use resources at a slower rate than many other house plants, and can tolerate lower light conditions, and cooler indoor temperatures better than many other indoor plants. The tolerance factors associated with Aspidistra often place them in conditions where very infrequent watering is neccessary.

Question: My plant looks like something is eating it and some leaves have spread. What can I do?

Answer: If possible identify what is creating the damage. Based on your description of spreading leaves I envision the ends of the leaves being split, or shredded. If that is an accurate interpretation on my part, it is most likely that the leaves are being brushed by passers-by, or an animal (cat, dog) is chewing or batting at the ends of the foliage, either of which would cause the leaves to fray.


Ruby center on August 07, 2020:

Leaves to my cast iron plant in the yard green leaves are falling Dow and loose is something eating them off

Kay (UK) on April 21, 2020:

I hv a cast iron plant dating back to Victorian Times, & hv had to cut her back as over 80 Huge big strong green dark leaves growing occasionally I get flowers - she is kept in dim light, away from heat & take her pot out into garden & give her rain water leave her a few hrs to drain well & pop her back & in her decorative pot in the darkest corner of the room : Kay (UK)

Jane scott on August 31, 2018:

I've got fine roots coming out of the bottom of the pot should i trim them off also there is water at the bottom of the larger pot that the plant is in should l drain off the water each time it accumulates.

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