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The Aspidistra. Your invincible houseplant

Plant ABC

Words by Georgie Sinclair

Illustrations by Elena Boils

What to do if you have accidentally murdered every plant you’ve owned? Buy an Aspidistra Elatior. This plant has a reputation for tolerating the harshest conditions and has subsequently been granted the nickname, the 'Cast Iron' plant. Poor light, low humidity, infrequent watering, grimy student flat. There isn’t much it can’t handle. But that’s no reason for it to suffer. And since it’ll be sticking by you for years to come, you might as well create it a comfortable living environment.  

Latin name: Aspidistra Elatior

Nickname: Cast Iron Plant and Ballroom Plant

Family: Aspragacae

Native to: Japan and Taiwan

Spotted in: George Orwell’s 1934 novel, “Keep the Aspidistras Flying

Life cycle: Perennial

Soil: pH-value between 5.5 and 6.5

Special feature: Almost indestructible

It’s not afraid of dark apartments   

The Cast Iron plant is often used to furnish dark corridors and poorly lit basements. This is because the species is not at all picky. So long as it is not in direct sunlight it’ll be comfortable in dark or brightly lit rooms.

Don’t overwater

There are tonnes of reasons why a plant’s leaves might turn brown. But when it comes to the Cast Iron, it is most probably because you are overwatering it. In the winter it can last up to a month without any refreshment. But during spring and summer, it’ll require more frequent watering. Just make sure the soil dries out between watering sessions. You can also lightly spray its leaves to increase the humidity if the air in your apartment is particularly dry.

It can handle the cold

The Aspidistra will flourish in temperatures between 7 – 29 °C, so it is hard to go wrong. As it is typically cultivated outdoors it can also withstand quite low temperatures and has been known to survive in minus figures.

Be patient and don’t disturb

The leaves of your Cast Iron plant can grow up to 1.2 metres, but it won’t happen overnight. So be patient and try not to disturb it. Repot it every few years in the springtime. You can use this moment as an opportunity to propagate some of its leaves, by ‘division’. Carefully separate one of the larger roots – leaves attached – from the main plant. Re-pot it in a pot with moist soil and maintain moisture levels until new roots have grown. Then treat it as normal.