Caring For The Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra Elatior)

I consider the cast iron plant to be one of the best houseplants. Why? It’s low maintenance, tough as nails, non-toxic to pets, and it tolerates low-light conditions. It’s also a beautiful plant, so what’s not to love?

Variegated Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Large cast iron plant.

The cast iron plant is native to Japan and Taiwan where it happily grows as an understory plant. It was brought to Europe in the early 1800s and was quite popular during the Victorian era. In fact, you may recognize this plant if you’ve ever perused old Victorian era photos, as everyone does from time to time.

Cast iron plants were once a staple houseplant for the Victorian parlor. You may also recognize it from your great-grandmother’s living room. These plants are often passed down through generations because they’re so easy to care for, and can survive in a variety of living conditions.

Zones 7-11 are also fortunate enough to be able to incorporate this plant in outdoor landscaping. They’re probably laughing at us in Zone 6 keeping it as a houseplant. You can also keep this houseplant indoors during the winter and then relocate it a shady place outside to renew itself during the summer.

While it does flower on occasion, this plant is rarely kept for the hope that it will produce flowers. The flowers themselves are bit strange in appearance and emerge from the base of the plant at the soil line.

Lighting: Low to moderate
Watering: Allow top half of plant to dry out between watering.
Soil: Well-draining with good moisture retention.
Temperature: 65–70°F. Do not allow temperatures to drop below 50°F.

Milky Way Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Milky Way Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)

Cast iron plant watering

This plant can survive a little bit of neglect. That being said, it will do best with adequate water and proper care. Allow the top 50-75% of the soil to dry out between watering. When it is time to water, give the plant a thorough drench and allow the water to drain out completely.

Always make sure you’re using planters with drainage holes. I would also recommend using filtered water for this plant. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer during the growing season to promote new growth.

Cast iron plant lighting

This plant is very tolerant of low light. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy it. It’s a nice way to add some greenery to your home in areas that may need it, even if it is relatively dim.

This plant will do just fine near an East-facing window, or even a few feet away from it. Avoid direct sunlight as it can scorch the leaves. Cast iron plants can also grow well in front of a North-facing window.

In these lower light conditions, it will not grow as fast, but that’s okay for a houseplant. This is a relatively slow growing plant as it is. So, it likely won’t change much for you.

Cleaning the leaves of your cast iron plant

Variegated Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Cast iron plant with big variegated leaves.

The leaves of this plant are very large and they tend to collect dust over time. It is best practice to clean the leaves of your houseplants, as it helps them photosynthesize more easily.

You can clean the leaves with a damp paper towel and water, microfiber gloves, or even special plant leaf cleaner. It’s also not a bad idea to give this plant the occasional gentle spray down in the shower.

Cast iron plant soil

This plant does not like to sit in overly-moist soil (it’s not great for any houseplant, really). So, provide your cast iron plant with a good, loose soil that is well-draining. Make sure the pot you are using has adequate drainage to avoid the roots sitting in water-logged soil.

A standard potting mix with a decent amount of perlite added for drainage will work well. 70% potting soil, 20% perlite, and a handful of worm castings will keep this plant very happy! It’s relatively unfussy and the most important thing is to make sure you are watering it thoroughly every time you irrigate.

Tip: If you are looking for the perfect ready-made soil for your houseplants, keep it simple and check out our favorite Chunky Houseplant Mix from Sol Soils. And, use code “GEEKY” for 10% off!

Cast iron plant temperature and humidity

Indoors, aim to keep this plant in temperatures above 50°F. For optimal growth, I would provide the plant with at least 65°F. Humidity should not be a concern with this plant. You likely will never need to supplement it with humidification, as your average home humidity will be just fine.

You can place this plant in the darkest, driest, coolest room in your house and it will probably survive. Okay, that may be a stretch. But, it can tolerate conditions that most other houseplants will not. So, don’t overthink this one.

Fun fact: Some may know this plant as the “beer plant.” Back in the day, it was common to see this plant in low-lit bars where the bartenders watered them the last few sips of beer from abandoned glasses.

Variegated Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)

Cast iron plant propagation

Propagating a cast iron plant is done through division from the mother plant. It’s a relatively simple process best done in the warmer/active growing months. It is also easier to work outdoors to avoid a big mess inside.

Simply divide clusters from the mother plant, ensuring the new clumps have adequate and healthy roots. Then, pot up the new clusters in small pots with fresh potting soil.

Cast iron plant problems and pests

This is a tough plant that is surprisingly resilient against a variety of issues and pests. But, things can happen to even the toughest of plants.

  • Brown leaf tips on cast iron plant – The likely cause of brown/dry leaf tips on your cast iron plant is thirst. If you notice the tips turning brown, be sure to give your plant a thorough watering. Make sure all of the roots are completely soaked. Then, avoid letting it dry out too much between watering again. If you continue noticing brown leaf tips on your plant even after implementing good watering habits, try switching to filtered water instead of tap water.
  • Droopy leaves – Believe it or not, it is completely normal for some of the leaves of your cast iron plant to droop a little. It is one of the quirks of this plant. Some of the leaves stay upright, while others take on a mind of their own and droop a bit towards the ground. If you notice mushy leaves or severe drooping, you may be overwatering.
  • Spots or webbing on leaves – Sometimes, spider mites will take a liking to the cast iron plant. If you notice webbing or lots of tiny spots where the spider mites have been feeding, you should isolate your plant and treat it for spider mites. I suggest giving it a good shower, then treating it with a pest spray for at least a few weeks.
  • Large spots all over leaves – If you noticed large spots on the leaves of your cast iron plant, it may have bacterial or fungal growth. You’ll want to remove the infected leaves and treat the plant.

Are variegated cast iron plants rare?

The cast iron plant is not commonly found in nurseries. While it may be because overall demand for this plant is low, it is also a very slow-growing plant. It is not difficult to find the cast iron plant for sale online from specialty nurseries or independent Etsy shops. However, they are a bit pricier than other plants, especially variegated varieties.

If you see a healthy looking cast iron plant for sale at your local nursery for a reasonable price, I would not hesitate to pick one up if you have been in the market for one!

Variegated Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)

Do you have an Aspidistra / Cast iron plant in your collection? If not, I highly recommend this resilient and beautiful houseplant. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to inherit one from a family member. Leave a comment with your experience and stories with this plant!

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  1. I love all your tips about the cast iron plant. I was at my local nursery today ( Peach tree gardens) looking for another houseplant. They had a large selection of cast iron plants for sale at about half the price of their fiddle leaf fig plants. I had originally wanted a fiddle leaf fig but chose a cast iron plant because they will fit better in my apt. I’m so happy to learn they are easy to care for. I bought a slightly larger pot to transplant it in. I may divide it in a few weeks because it’s roots were long.

    1. Congrats on your new plant! You may want to hold off for a little while before transplanting so it can acclimate to your home. They are very slow growers, so if you like the fullness of the plant now, you can hold off on dividing as well. Personally, I don’t mind a slow growing plant! Good luck 🙂

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