Aspidistra - Tough Cast Iron Plants for the Perennial Garden or Container

Aspidistra - Tough Cast Iron Plants for the Perennial Garden or Container

By Published March 15, 2017 Updated June 15, 2022

Plant Delights Nursery has a very large collection of cast iron plant clones including many rare and unusual species. It is our intention to evaluate our Aspidistra collection and pick those individuals with the best ornamental appeal and release them to the retail public. If you are an Aspidistra nerd, then you'll definitely want to keep your eyes on our catalog for the next several years.

Aspidistra is a genus that is growing fast. Until the 1980's there were only a handful of known species, and only one of those, Aspidistra elatior, was commonly grown in gardens. Then botanists started getting interested in the group and reports of new Aspidistra species began rolling in. As of 2012 there are currently around 100 species known to science and there are probably hundreds more awaiting discovery. Although many Aspidistras live in tropical places, some are cold tolerant. We are always on the look out for a new species or for an existing tropical species that has migrated up to the cool zone of some mountain. PDN has several dozen cold hardy species of Aspidistra including some in our collection that are awaiting 'discovery' by the scientists. We have wild collected more than a half dozen previously unknown species of Aspidistra during our plant hunting expeditions to Asia.

Aspidistra are quite tolerant of deer and do not mind dry shade either. This makes them perfect for planting under trees in the woodland garden. As house plants, cast iron plants are also amazingly durable. Florists like to use the long-lasting foliage in flower arrangements. So if you buy an aspidistra from us, you should select a cultivar with all of these things in mind...will it look good in the landscape? ... Can I pot some of it up as a house plant? ... Can I collect some leaves for a flower arrangement? No matter what you do with your cast iron plant, we know you will enjoy it. Try growing Aspidistra along with Hosta, Helleborus and Pulmonaria in a lovely shade garden bed.

Cast iron plants are not known as flowering perennials but if you part the foliage and examine the ground you may see the thimble-sized fleshy flowers. Some species, like A. guangxiensis and A. grandiflora have very cool octopus-like purple flowers that are a real treat to see. Now if only we could breed them to grow on tall flower stalks! Maybe someday people will grow cast iron plants as flowering perennials for the shade.

Cast iron plants have an interesting cultural history too. Their toughness in containers made them popular in England as houseplants. With the rise of the monied middle class during the industrial revolution it became of symbol of 'having made it' if you had a cast iron plant in your parlor. This cultural symbolism led to cast iron plants being featured in song and literature during the early 20th century as the British rallied around the Aspidistra as a symbol of the wealth and greatness of England. Books such as George Orwell's social critique 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' and the silly nonsencical song 'The Biggest Aspidistra in the World' by Gracie Fields demonstrate Englands' love affair with this plant.

Welcome to Plant Delights Nursery at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens. We are a private research and display botanic garden located near Raleigh, North Carolina (USDA Hardiness Zone 7b). Our retail mail order division allows us to make the best perennials from our trials available to gardeners around the world, some of which were developed here, some from our plant explorations, and others from breeders around the world. Between 1988 and 2010, Plant Delights Nursery introduced over 500 new perennial plants to US horticulture. In 2002, we were honored to be recognized by the American Horticulture Society for our lifetime of work in commercial horticulture. This image gallery is but a sampling of the great perennial plants available for gardeners around the world. We do not carry all plants pictured at any one time, but since our mission is to educate and inspire, we hope these images and the linked articles below will expand your garden horizons and interest. You will find an array of other interesting information and fascinating perennials throughout our website...thank you for taking time to visit.

Back to articles