Is there any other houseplant immortalized in song in the way that the aspidistra was by Gracie Fields in "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World?" How it grew in spite of everything!
A favorite of the Victorian era, the aspidistra has been resurrected in recent years as a good candidate for the indoor garden and as a plant that fits into our energy-conscious world of lowered thermostats.
A native of China and a member of the lily family, it has long had a reputation as a minimum-care plant. It became popular in the days before central heating when some rooms were often quite cool - even cold - in winter and windows often were hung with heavy draperies to conserve heat (which also blocked the light).
Aspidistra has been called cast iron plant because of its ability to endure such hardships, but as with all plants, it will produce lots of growth if given care. It reacts to neglect, low light and cool temperature with reduced growth - it just "hangs in there."
Under ideal conditions as a decorative houseplant, its lance-shaped, arching, dark green leaves arise singly from the base of the plant. They are four inches wide and often reach more than tw feet in length. There is a variegated form with leaves of alternating green and white stripes. Flowers are seldom produced.
To grow aspidistra well, give it bright light, as from a north window, winter temperatures of 50 to 70 degrees and constantly moist soil. Average house humidity will suffice, but the plant will respond better in higher humidity. During the growing season (March to October) feed it monthly withe liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Repot aspidistra every second or third year in March or April, using a general purpose potting soil. If the plant has grown beyond the capacity of the pot, move it to a larger pot or divide it. To divide the plant, cut through the crown of the plant with a sharp, sterile knife, making several pieces, each with two or three leaves and repot individually or several per pot.
In summer, aspidistra can be set outdoors in light shade. Beware of direct sun, which will bleach the leaves. Frequent cleaning and dusting, whether the plant is indoors or outdoors, accentuates the gloss of the leaves and contributes to the plant's health.
The lily family is full of surprises, especially for those who think of lilies in terms of Easter. Besides the aspidistra, another surprising lily family member is yucca, also known for its endurance.
Yucca, an American native, is a bold succulent growing as a rosette of stiff leathery leaves. As an individual specimen it makes an excellent decorator plant for a desert effect.
The yucca prefers bright, indirect light or full sun but doesn't mind poor light. It is satisfied with either a warm or a cool location and takes air-conditioning well. It can be moved to the porch or potio in the summer but needs to be shielded from full outdoor sunlight.
Let the soil partially dry out between thorough waterings. Feed it every two or three months from March to October and you will have leaves 18 to 36 inches long on a plant six to nine feet tall.
Though very different in character and in their uses as houseplants, aspidistra and yucca are durable and their culture requirements allow a busy indoor gardener to have distinctive houseplants with minimum care. Short Courses
Ivy art, hanging baskets and container growing will be the subjects of classes scheduled for March and April at the U.S. Botanic Garden.
The one-day courses are free and open to the public. Advance registration is not necessary. Each class lasts approximately one hour and is held three times each day dates indicated. Classes are at the Botanic Garden Conservatory, 1st Street and Maryland Avenue SW. For additional information, call 225-7099.
March 4 through March 11: Ivy Art - How to grow the many cultivars of English ivy and how to train them into decorative and artistic shapes and designs. Instructor: Charles W. Dudley Jr.
April 15 through April 22: Plants in Hanging Baskets - How to grow foliage and flowering plants in hanging baskets for outside and indoor decoration. Instructor: Ramah E. Overton.
April 29 through May 10: Growing Vegetables in Containers - How to grow a wide variety of edible plants in a small area. Instructor: Carl Meadows.