Friday, January 30, 2015

February Plant of the Month - Cast Iron Plant

Cast Iron Plant for sale buy Aspidistra guangxiensis 'Kunming Starlet'
'Kunming Scarlet'

by Marty Finkel

Who would have thought that the mostly overlooked, often neglected plant on the table in the darkest corner of Grandma’s house, leaves gathering
dust, had so many beautiful species and cultivars, and that it is hardy outdoors in climate zones 7-11?  Its common name is cast iron plant because it can grow with little attention, its light requirements are low, it’s
slow-growing (as a houseplant this means infrequent repotting), and it is very long-lived (anecdotal reports of 50 and more years).  The most common species offered in garden centers is Aspidistra elatior, which has dark green strap-like leaves.  This species has several showy cultivars – see photos for a couple of them.  Aspidistras are native to China and Japan and are in the lily family.  They grow in the dappled to full shade of forests in their natural habitat in almost any type of soil.  Planting in nutrient-poor soil at the base of nutrient-hungry trees simulates this habitat.

Cast Iron Plant for sale buy Aspidistra elatior 'Lennon's Song'
'Lennon's Song'
In fact, low nutrient soil produces showier whites, creams, and yellows on variegated types.   Plant in a site sheltered from the wind, because exposure to the cold, drying winter wind can cause “winterburn,” which strips the moisture from the leaves and turns the edges and tips brown.  These brown parts can be trimmed off.  Cast iron plant mature heights vary from 10” to 3’, depending on the species, with the leaves of A. elatior attaining a width of 5” wide and becoming 3’ long in 20 years. The size of the clumps increases slowly as the rhizomes (underground stems) spread and put up leaves as they grow.  Each rhizome can be divided and planted.  And cast iron plant even flowers!  The flowers poke out of the ground and stay at soil level so they can be pollinated by slugs and snails.  Usually one flower at a time appears and will last a few weeks; only mature plants will flower.  Leaf variegation can be quite striking, ranging from leaves with white tips to those with white or cream streaking along their length (A. ‘Lennon’s Song’, photo) to white specks or dots, and to pale yellow variegation.

Photos courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.

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