Plant Imposters

The first plant looks for all the world like a fine textured carex, but in fact, it’s an iris. Iris dabashanensis is a little-known species from China, that thrives for us in light shade, but will also take a few hours of early morning sun. Our plant is a Darrell Probst collection from Sichuan, China. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a -8a.

Iris dabashanensis

Below is the same plant flowering in early April.

Iris dabashanensis

The other plant growing nearby in our gardens that fools even the keenest plantsmen is this liriope look-alike. In fact, this is a cast iron plant, Aspidistra linearifolia. This demonstrates why those pesky taxonomic traits matter. In 2008 we introduced a selection with a lighter central stripe down the center of each leaf called A. linearifolia ‘Skinny Dippin’ which we will be offering again in 2023. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Aspidistra linearifolia

Weeping cast irons

Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.

The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.

Aspidistra sichuanensis

Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.

Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’

Hanoi Honey

The cast iron plant, Aspidistra tonkinensis ‘Hanoi Honey’ has been looking quite stunning recently during its December flowering period. Unlike many cast iron plant that have reddish cinnamon flowers, this dazzler has large bright white flowers that are impossible to miss. Where it isn’t winter hardy, cast iron plants make fabulous, easy-to-grow house plants.

Aspidistra tonkinensis ‘Hanoi Honey’

Casting about

Just snapped this photo of Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’…one of our favorite cast iron plants. Although it isn’t really winter hardy here in Zone 7b, it makes one heck of a tough house plant.

Casting About

Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Thin Man;
Aspidistra elatior ‘Zodiac’
Aspidistra elatior JLBG-035

Goldfeather

We can’t imagine gardening in a climate where we couldn’t grow these amazing bold-textured evergreen winter wonders. Here is Aspidistra ‘Goldfeather’ in the garden this week, glowing in the winter light. For those in colder winter climates, the common name of cast iron plants give an indication of how tough they are as house plants in low light conditions.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Goldfeather’

Cast Iron Tough

We highly value our cast iron plants (aspidistra) in the winter garden. When we started collecting them in 1980, there were only 20 known species. Today, there are over 200 species known to science. Here are a few in the garden this winter.

These are just a few of the 139 different cast iron plant clones we grow. We hope you’ll come see them in person during our upcoming winter open nursery and garden.

Friday Morning Podcast

Here are some seed and seedpods from the gardens and the greenhouses today.

The Strangest Flowers You Rarely See

Plant Delights Nursery and JLBG focuses on preserving genetic germplasm through ex-situ conservation and assembling complete collections of specific plant groups. This aides in conducting scientific and taxonomic research to clarify mis-information and nomenclature issues in the industry.

One of these specialty collections is Aspidistra, also known as cast iron plant. JLBG’s collection currently contains 32 species, 109 unique clones and 12 unidentified species.

Aspidistra is a group of evergreen woodland perennials typically grown for their foliage and unique variegation. Many people never notice their flowers, which are borne at ground level, below the foliage. Here are some flower images from the garden this week.

Cast iron makes a return

We now have so many aspidistra (cast iron plants), that there is at least one species flowering virtually every month of the year. Winter still has the most flowering species, and here are a few that are currently blooming in our collection. Most folks don’t see the flowers because they either don’t know to look or plant their plants too deep, so the flowers form underground. We like to snip off some of the oldest leaves for a better floral show.

Aspidistra fungilliformis ‘China Star’ is a Chinese collection from Jim Waddick

Aspidistra tonkinensis is a Dylan Hannon collection from Vietnam…not enough to share yet, but soon.

Aspidistra sp. nov. is an Alan Galloway collection from Vietnam.  We thought this was Aspidistra lutea, but we now think it may be a new undescribed species. This one offsets slow, so it may be a couple of years before we can share…hopefully by then we can get this named.

Aspidistra vietnamensis…a Japanese selection. Most of the plants in the trade in the deep south which go by a variety of species names are actually this newly described species. We’ve had plants like Aspidistra ‘Ginga’ keyed out previously by the world’s authorities as either Aspidistra elatior or Aspidistra sichuanensis, but to us, they never quite fit into those species. Now that Aspidistra vietnamensis has been published, we finally have a match.

So, how do we figure this out?  Our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill has become an expert on aspidistra by dissecting the flowers. Yes, leaves, growth habit, and rhizome are important, but it’s all about the flowers. The first image below shows the anthers inside the flower, and the bottom photo shows the stigma. Minor differences in the shapes and orientation are used to distinguish one species from another.  We have other collaborators in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia with whom we share images and identification thoughts.

There are several of us that travel around the world to find these new species, and then work to get them into cultivation for the purpose of ex-situ conservation. We hope you’ll try some of our amazing offerings.

Cast Iron Tough

Now that winter is giving us a sneak preview of what’s in store for the next few months,  the evergreen plants in the garden are really starting to shine without all those pesky deciduous perennials. Aspidistra, or cast iron plants, are one of our favorites, and they really look so good in the garden now. Many folks in more northern climates are relegated to container culture, but for those of us in Zone 7b and south, they are amazing perennials. 

Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’ should be in all shade gardens where the climate allows. He’s our nine year old clump this month, now 2′ tall x 6′ wide.

Aspidistra retusa ‘Nanjing Green’ is a smaller clump with a different form.

And here is a photo of Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’ from the garden last week. 

We’ve also grown quite a few aspidistra from seed to see what kind of new forms might arise. Below are some photos of some of our 2 year old offspring. Like hostas, variegation in aspidistra arises from streaking in the L2 layer (center of the leaf).

What fun!