Using Aspidistra in the Lab


These tough plants from the Asian forest floors were found in every Victorian drawing room – the only plants that could survive the smog and pollution. As classic shade-loving plants, they make great subjects for investigations into photosynthesis – and are nearly indestructable in the classroom.


Teaching Topics

  • Photosynthetic pigments
  • Chromatography


Aspidistra, Aspidistra elatior, the ‘cast iron plant’

A popular Victorian house-plant due to its ability to survive in rooms filled with fumes from gas lighting. Originally from East Asia, its natural habitat is a damp, forest floor. The dark, long-stalked, lance-shaped leaves form large clumps, with single, purple flowers are found growing at ground level. The flowers were for many years believed to be pollinated by slugs, but recent research in Japan concludes that Amphipods, collembolans, and possibly, fungus-gnats are the pollinators.

Growing and sourcing

Obtaining: Purchase adult plants from garden centres.  These plants are best bought as a mature adult as they are very slow growing. Due to their leaves forming clumps, one mature plant should provide the material needed for several academic years.

Eventual Size: Grown in pots in the lab, aspidistra can get quite large – up to 90cm.

Light: Aspidistra can be kept in a dark corner, but they will fail to put on much growth there. They will grow better in medium light, such as near a sunless window.

Water: Water well in spring and summer but let the compost dry out between. They like some humidity so the occasional misting is a good idea.Overwatering aspidistras results in brown marks on the surface of the leaves.

Temperature: Aspidistra are adaptable to a broad range of temperatures from 10-29 degrees c.

Fertilising: Feed with a houseplant fertiliser such as ‘Baby Bio’ when every two weeks when watering in spring and summer. Follow the product instructions for amounts.

Repotting: As these are very slow growing, they will not need dividing or re-potting very often – perhaps every four years. If a plant produces new shoots with their own roots, these can be potted up (in a good all-round house-plant compost) to grow on to build your collection.

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