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What is Aspidistra?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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Aspidistra are over 30 species of plant native to Asia. The most common type, aspidistra elantis, is often known as the cast-iron plant for its hardiness. The leafy plant is popular for flower arrangements as leaves can last for days or weeks before wilting.

One of the reasons aspidistra is a popular houseplant is that it grows easily in most climates. It prefers shady areas, but will flourish in warmth as well, as long as it has some shade. Temperatures as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 c) will not damage the plant. It is also popular as it is usually pest resistant. Because it can stand dim light, it is a great indoor plant as well.

The dark green leaves of aspidistra are often described as resembling corn leaves. It grows to a height of between 2-3 ft (.6-.9 m.) Leaves will spread out about 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) and are between 3-4 in (7-10 cm) wide. Its flowers are not showy, but tend to be purple or purple-brown in color.

In America, the aspidistra elantis is a popular feature of Southern gardens, particularly in the large gardens of New Orleans, Louisiana and Charleston, South Carolina. The wide and shiny green leaves give a tropical look to any garden, and are excellent for filling in empty spaces on the garden floor or a groundcover. The evergreen leaves of the plant will remain bright and colorful year round, unless affected by disease or too much direct sunlight.

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The cast-iron plant has gained a reputation as a dull plant, signaling conformity and lack of imagination. In George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the hero is constantly trying to escape bourgeois society, while being is pursued by a specimen of the plant that he cannot kill. Since the 1936 book, the plant has become a reference to the suburban lifestyle, used by Dorothy Sayers in the opening of novel, and reviving in a 1997 film version of Orwell’s book. Yet the reputation is not necessarily deserved, as aspidistra as a lovely and useful plant.

If you are looking for a plant to give beginning gardeners, this may be one of your best bets. Its hardiness, tolerance of water and weather, and resistance to disease and pests make it incredibly difficult to kill, particularly as an indoor houseplant. It is available at some nurseries or home-supply stores, and also can be found online. The price of a cast-iron plant varies depending on the source, but tends to be about $10-$15 US Dollars for one plant.

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