Gardening sources describe the aspidistra as a flowering perennial plant; however, for most people it is a leafy pot plant that can survive in dark corners of either the house or the garden.
The aspidistra is native to eastern and southeastern Asia where it grows in the shade under trees and shrubs. There are over one hundred species with the largest number found in Guangxi Province of China. The species of aspidistra that is most common as a houseplant is the Aspidistra elatior which is native to Taiwan and the islands of southern Japan. Like all aspidistras, it is grown from rhizomes. The leaves arise in groups of two to four directly from the rhizome and slowly unfurl as they develop. The fully grown leaves are lance shaped and dark and glossy, about a foot long on a stem of similar length. Aspidistra elatior is also known as the cast-iron plant because like the agapanthus, you cannot kill it with an axe. The A. elatior will survive neglect and tolerates cool, shady conditions and irregular watering. It is sensitive to bright sunshine though, with the leaves losing the vividness of their colour if the plant is left in a sunny spot in the garden. The tendency of aspidistra owners to place the plant in a dim corner and leave it to it own devices means that most people don’t realize that it is , in fact, a flowering plant. The flowers are short and arise at ground level so they are usually overshadowed by the leaves. The cream coloured flowers are eight lobed, cup-shaped and fleshy with the inner surface maroon in colour. The flowers appear towards the beginning of summer according the the experts, however, I currently have a bloom on one plant and we are at the transition between winter and spring here.
I regard my aspidistra as something of an heirloom. It originally belonged to my great grandmother, Margaret (Ryan) McGrath and was passed on to her daughter Kate (McGrath) McInerney and then to Kate’s niece, my mother, Catherine Mary (McGrath) Merrick and finally to me. (And as you can see we also pass on names in our family.) The plant has been repotted and divided, parts given away and, despite enduring periods of neglect, it has survived for well over one hundred years. It suffers bouts of scale at times which I treat with a scale spray bought at at Bunnings. I usually weed out the dead and dying leaves at the same time and, after treatment, my aspidistra looks glorious with its dark shining leaves. I don’t know whether it can be considered as the same plant but the plant sitting by my front door certainly has its origins in that plant of my great grandmother’s.