Cast iron plant

Aspidistra eliatorI keep getting distracted from my intention to talk about some of our favorite houseplants so without further ado, I give you Aspidistra eliator – the Cast Iron Plant.  The common name pretty much says it all.  This is probably the toughest houseplant on any planet.  It’s also probably one of the most boring, ridiculed and difficult to find to buy.  It’s an original passalong plant lurking in a corner of your best friend’s back bedroom.

evidence of kittens and sunburn on my aspidistra

Aspidistras can tolerate temperatures ranging from 28 to 100 degrees F, low light and air pollution making them ideal plants for any inner city cave dweller.  They also thrive on benign neglect (water when the soil looks dry) and aren’t pest magnets (unless you count kittens) making them the perfect plant for anyone with a multicolored thumb.

Aspidistras, native to woodlands of China, the Himalayas and Japan, became a requisite dark corner decoration during the Victorian era.  Since then, its popularity has waned but in certain circles, especially in the UK, they are still a familiar and occasionally publicly mocked member of the household.  Aspidistra was an emblem of mediocrity in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying and a character called “Uncle”, The Rangdo of Arg (animated by Kenny Baker, also known for playing R2D2) in a weird 1980’s British game show called The Adventure Game.

An aspidistra break outWhen Uncle is ready to be shared with friends and neighbors, he lets you know by busting out of the pot.  Aspidistras increase slowly but steadily by rhizomes (fleshy stems just under and at the soil level) and are easily divided with a hori-hori, a hacksaw or your burliest kitchen knife.  Remember, as you grab and hack, these plants are tough-as-nails, indestructible as a daylily.  Rumor has it that they produce a prettyish tulip like flower near the soil that’s pollinated by tiny terrestrial crustaceans (according to wikipedia) but I’ve never seen one.  But then again my plant is tucked in a corner, molested by kittens and I hardly ever gaze deeply at it.  It’s just the best houseplant!

Do you have a cast iron plant?  Does it have a name?