An important criteria to consider when choosing plants is maintenance. Because of the size of my garden and because of limited available time for yard work, I am always looking for low maintenance plants. Cast iron plant has been on my wish list for several years. Cast iron? The name suggested it would be perfect for me, and this year I finally added one to my woodland garden:
Cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, has the reputation of being nearly indestructible. It will survive neglect and is often used as a house plant in low light situations. However, it grows outdoors in U.S. hardiness zones 7-10 and may live with protection in parts of zone 6.
For optimum health, plant Aspidistra in well-drained garden soil with lots of added humus. It is a great plant for shady areas, even deep shade where other plants struggle. There is a variegated form that really lights up dark corners of a garden. Filtered sunlight is OK, but avoid direct sun, which can scorch the leaves and cause brown spots.
Cast iron plant will also tolerate both heat and cold, and it's evergreen leaves can take temperatures down to 28 degrees without damage. Severe cold may fray the leaves and cause them to develop brown streaks, but the damaged leaves can be trimmed away before new spring growth begins. Cast iron plant, once established, will survive drought as well as wet soil. Generally, it has few pest problems, except for deer and rabbits and some rodents who may browse on the leaves. (So far my resident woodland rabbit hasn't done any munching.)
The plant has tough, rizomatous roots and can be easily propagated by division. It is a well behaved plant, growing slowly to form clumps up to three feet wide. It makes a great ground cover under large trees. The long-lived, lance shaped leaves rise up directly from the ground and reach to about two feet tall. It has inconspicuous brown flowers that grow at soil level and are usually hidden by the foliage. Some may consider this a boring background plant, and perhaps it is. But the bold, deep green leaves contrast nicely with finer textured plants, and I believe it can be an excellent design feature when well-sited.