Cast-iron plants were made for brown-thumb gardeners. Sturdy, long-lived, and nearly bulletproof, these evergreen perennials typically form rather open clumps; they tolerate very low light and almost total neglect. Although they don't require well-drained soil enriched with organic matter, they'll be very happy if they get it. If you really want to pamper them, fertilize them occasionally in spring and summer. They make excellent houseplants if placed where they'll get light (45 ft. from a sunny, south-facing window, for example). Let the soil surface go dry between waterings. From the Lower South on down, cast-iron plants are also good for deeply shaded areas around the house where few other plants will growunder a deck, for example. Bright, hot sunlight will burn their leaves. Deer resistant.
A. elatior. Native to Japan and China. The most common cast-iron plant, with upright, arching leaves sporting distinctive parallel veins from base to tip. Leaf blades are 1212 ft. long and 45 in. wide, carried on grooved, 68 in. leafstalks. In spring, bears inconspicuous brownish flowers. Selections include the following.
'Akebono'. Leaves to 212 ft. long flaunt a narrow white streak down the center. 'Lennon's Song' is a narrower leaf with similar stripe.
'Asahi'. Deep green leaves reach 20 in. long. As the season progresses, the top third of each leaf turns white. Color holds all winter. Also called 'Morning Sun'. 'Snow Cap' has a larger patch of white that is showy year-round.
'Okame'. Green leaves to 20 in. long, dramatically marked with irregular longitudinal white stripes.
'Variegata'. Rich green leaves are marked from base to tip with streaks of white. Loses variegation if planted in soil that's too rich.
A. hainanensis 'Jade Ribbons'. Selection of a Chinese species. Forms a tight clump; looks a lot like a daylily (Hemerocallis) plant. Shiny dark green leaves are 2 ft. long, 12 in. wide.
A. linearifolia 'Leopard'. A bizarre clump-forming selection of a Chinese species; looks like a cross between cast-iron plant and mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria). Deep green, yellow-speckled leaves are held erect; they grow about 212 ft. long but just 12 in. wide.