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