Thursday, December 6, 2012

The lowly Cast Iron Plant, my favorite plant in the garden, this week…


Aspidistra elatior isn’t exactly considered a glamorous plant…

“Cast iron plant. A standard house plant for eons -- in dark British apartment buildings from Victorian times -- and often used for a tropical touch in southern and western gardens especially in areas seemingly too shady or too dark for anything but slime molds.” – Cistus Nursery

“Cast Iron Plant, famous for adaptation to nearly pitch black shade…Best in dry shade with occasional water, under stairwells, dark dry planters. Small flowers appear at the ground and look like individual slices of pepperoni. Seriously. Protect from bright sun. NOT just a houseplant-easy to grow outside.” – Xera Plants

“This is an old, reliable, tough plant for pots or beds in shady areas, or indoors” – Almost Eden

…and that’s a shame! But then again here I am finally noticing it in December. The rest of the year it was overlooked in favor of, well, just about everything else! Actually the day I paused to look at the empty patio and take this shot was when I realized just how good it was looking.

Who knows, it may have looked this good all the rest of the year too, but I had so many containers in front of it I couldn't see it…

These plants all came from our Portland Garden Bloggers exchange last spring (I believe from Ann). The Black Mondo (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') and Liriope are divisions from my plants in the front garden.

(I don’t remember if I've ever mentioned it but the Liriope is my oldest plant here in the Portland garden. I bought it when I lived in Seattle in the 90’s and it was a houseplant in a terra cotta urn for years. When we moved here and I wanted to release it I had to break the container to get it out. Such a silly plant to have an emotional attachment to...)

I do have another small patch of Aspidistra elatior, it’s been in the ground since summer of 2009 and has grown from 7 leaves to 18…not exactly a fast grower! Although in fairness I have probably cut off at least a dozen leaves. I’m not one to put up with a ragged looking leaf.

So while I may not have sung it’s praises before, I do love this plant. It requires nothing from me and looks good doing it...I probably need more.

27 comments:

  1. I've recently rediscovered Aspidistra elatior myself. I planted a beautiful variegated form next to a clump of shell ginger and I love how it lights up a darkish corner even though it only has six leaves :-).

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    1. Your variegated plant is lovely! For some reason I lean toward the less flashy Aspidistra...I think because I like the strong leading roles to be filled by other plants. Although I have to say those bright leaves would look nice with the patch up against the fence.

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  2. You definitely need more. It looks sooo tropical and lush!! Imagine big clumps with annual bromeliads in spring summer of your favourite red orange colour!!! It would be stunning!!! All surrounded by the lush leaf of something like a loquat and it would be a show stopping head turning garden hot spot!!!! Okay okay I just gave away my newest garden idea for my loquat and aspidistra!

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    1. I like the picture your painting and I can't wait to see it in your garden! (photos I mean...no plans to drop in on you...)

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  3. I've heard of Apidistra outside and fine in dark exposures even in Salt Lake...may be ideal in similar places here, as long as there's water. I like workhorse, bones plants in the right place!

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    1. Salt Lake! I would have thought them too cold.

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  4. There are quite a few different forms around, some can have beautiful variegation. I'm surprised slugs and snails don't attack yours, they're real pests on the plant here in the Bay Area.
    David in Berkeley

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    1. That reminds me, I scored a lovely lightly spotted plant a couple of years ago at our Chinese Garden spring plant sale. It ended up hidden behind one of the stock tanks, I really need to move it.

      I think the slugs around here are spoiled and don't need to work so hard as to climb that short little stem to get to the leaves. Actually I was pretty sure I would regret planting any Hosta here as I saw them as a nice juicy slug target but I've been pleasantly surprised.

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  5. I have always enjoyed this plant. I have a big one captive in a pot indoors that all summer long I planned to divide and plant outside. But it didn't happen, so maybe I'll bring divisions to our garden bloggers spring plant exchange.

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    1. I'm curious if you've ever seen blooms on your plant?

      (and no doubt your divisions will be a hot commodity at the exchange!)

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    2. No, ours hasn't bloomed. But if I liberate it to the outdoors, maybe it will!

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  6. I had no idea you could plant this outside in the ground! I've always thought it was just an ordinary houseplant. I see there are a bunch of different ones with interesting foliage. I might have to buy this for my dry shade areas.

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    1. Yay! Glad to have introduced you to a plant for your dry shade areas. I remember I was surprised when I first saw it outside here too.

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  7. Lovely plant but very slow to spread. I have a couple that go unnoticed until winter because they're planted with stuff that grows up and over them the rest of the year. Poor little things.

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    1. Glad to hear I'm not the only one.

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  8. I remember my astonishment when I first discovered that Aspidistra elatior was hardy enough to grow outside here. And true enough, yes it is, even sailing through winter 2010/11 here almost virtually unscathed and remained evergreen. It's only slight disadvantage is its intolerance of direct sun, but apart from that it is a tough, gorgeous foliage plant worthy of more praises.

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    1. Luckily you've got plenty of shady places for it to be happy!

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  9. Now we will all be waiting for Jane's divisions at the swap! I love it with all the thready, grassy foliage surrounding it, and who couldn't use a bulletproof plant for deep shade?

    I got a new appreciation for Liriope with my visit to the Elizabeth Caruthers Park.

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    1. The Chinese Garden does a pretty nice job with Liriope as well. Which reminds me I need to do a winter visit...

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  10. Like you, I love that cast iron plant. I first discovered it in Atlanta, where I grew it outside - and inside a Victorian home, too dark for many plants, as you point out. Here in Connecticut, it's indoors only and still a star in my book.

    A couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to a variegated form, speckled with golden stardust. When she sent me a piece of hers through the mail, it quickly became one of my favorite passalong plants.

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    1. "speckled with golden stardust"...you should be writing plant descriptions!

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  11. I like to think of it as 'the lovely cast iron plant'. Thanks for this post, Loree. My Aspididra was a thoughtful gift from a sweet friend and your post reminds me of him. After eight years, my trusty plant is still going strong. -Bridget

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    1. Those gift plants are the best! I'm having difficulty picturing where yours is. Perhaps I need to go back and look at my pictures...

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  12. How winterhardy is it ?

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    1. Looks like the consensus is zone 8 (10F, -12C).

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  13. It's a stalwart performer here in shady Austin gardens too. I divided some when I moved into this house and saw the ground-level blooms for the first time in my life. They are definitely not showy, and you'd never see them if you weren't rooting around at their base.

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  14. I'm so happy to be reading so many reports of Aspidistra surviving outside in the PNW! I love the clean, upright green leaves and the slightly tropical look, not to mention the cast-iron constitution. Until recently (I've been digging through a lot of blogs lately) I had always been told Aspidistra either didn't make it or grew so slowly that it eventually petered out in the PNW because our springs stay cool for so long. I recently moved from western Washington to North Carolina and they have Aspidistra everywhere, but the garden I work at gets questions from people in Washington and Oregon about whether Aspidistra will make it outside. They've been telling them "probably not" for years! Clearly not the case! I have a bunch of seedlings I've collected from the garden, spotted forms and some with beautiful deep blue-green leaves that I'm going to plant at my parents' house in Washington! So excited!

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