Aspidistra elatior is a shade-loving, extremely hardy plant. Nicknamed the "cast iron" plant for its toughness, this evergreen perennial is desirable for its ability to grow in the shade and even survive long periods of drought. In fact, its ability to grow in very low light conditions is unsurpassed, according to Edward F. Gilman, a horticulturist with the University of Florida. For these reasons, the iron plant requires very little care and it is often grown as a houseplant.
Native to China, this evergreen perennial prefers temperate to tropical climates, with cool winters and mild or hot summers. Grow the cast iron plant outdoors in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones 7 through 11. In colder locations, Aspidistra elatior can be grown as a houseplant, or grown outside in a container during the summer and brought inside before the first hard freeze.
These hardy plants can grow in almost any type of soil and even in times of drought. One thing cast iron plants are susceptible to, however, is winter winds. Cold, drying winds can cause a condition called "winterburn," which strips the moisture from the leaves, turning the edges and tips brown. These can be pruned away and the plant will recover easily, but it is best to place Aspidistra elatior in a position where it will be sheltered from these winds in the first place.
Aspidistra elatior is one of few plants that honestly thrives even in deep shade. Although it will grow in the sun, the plant will become weak and lose its color. Plant the iron plant under a tree or in a basket that will be placed on a porch that is cast in shade.
The cast iron plant thrives in almost any types of soil, including very poor soil. Still, most cultivars prefer loose, loamy soil rich in organic matter. Well-draining soil is also a must, as water-saturated soil can lead to root rot. Work peat moss and nutrient-rich mulch, such as leaf mold, into the soil around your plant. Note that variegated cultivars of the plant actually prefer soil that has low nutrients. The lack of minerals makes the variegation more noticeable.
Iron plants are rarely bothered by insect pests, according to Mr. Gilman, but they can suffer from leaf spot diseases. Leaf spot diseases are caused by various fungi that travel on water. When water that contains fungal spores sits on the wide leaves of the plant for a period of time, those spores can start to multiply, and the fungus will infect the leaves, leaving unattractive lesions that can range in color from bright orange to a dark, greasy gray color. Water from below, not above, to keep the leaves as dry as possible, and spray the plant with a fungicide if the infection is severe.