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Aspidistra elatior1.jpg
Aspidistra elatior
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae
Genus: Aspidistra
Ker Gawl.
  • Macrogyne Link & Otto
  • Plectogyne Link
  • Porpax Salisb.
  • Antherolophus Gagnep.
  • Colania Gagnep.
  • Evrardiella Gagnep.

Aspidistra /ˌæspɪˈdɪstrə/[2] is a genus of flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae, native to eastern and southeastern Asia, particularly China and Vietnam.[1][3] They grow in shade under trees and shrubs. Their leaves arise more or less directly from ground level, where their flowers also appear. The number of species known has increased considerably from the 1980s onwards, with around 100 accepted as of July 2013. Aspidistra elatior is common worldwide as a foliage house plant that is very tolerant of neglect. It and other species can also be grown in shade outside, where they are generally hardy to −5 °C (23 °F).


Species of Aspidistra are perennial herbaceous plants growing from rhizomes. The leaves are either solitary or are grouped in small "tufts" of two to four. They arise more or less directly from the rhizome, rather than being borne on stems. Each leaf has a long stalk (petiole) and a blade with many veins. The flowering stem (scape) is usually very short so that the flowers appear low down among the leaves. The fleshy flowers are bell-, urn- or cup-shaped.[4] They vary considerably in size and shape, although few are showy. The flowers of A. longipedunculata are yellow and, unusually for the genus, are borne on scapes up to 20 cm (8 in) high. A. grandiflora has spider-like flowers up to 12 cm (5 in) across.[5] The flower has a large stigma with a flattened top. The fruit is a berry, often with a single seed.[4]


The genus Aspidistra was named by the English botanist John Ker Gawler in 1822, as a blend of Greek ασπίς/ασπίδ- aspid- and the genus name Tupistra.[6] The genus was at one time placed in a broadly defined Liliaceae, along with many other lilioid monocots.[4] It has also been placed in the families Convallariaceae[7] and Ruscaceae.[8] The APG III system of 2009 places it in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae.[9]


Aspidistra is a genus that was largely ignored by field botanists until the 1980s onwards, and there has been a very rapid rise in the number of recognised species since then.[5] Some 8 to 10 species were known in the late 1970s; 30 new species were described from China in the 1980s. Subsequently, more new species were found in Vietnam.[10] The online Flora of China uses a narrow definition of species, producing a total of about 55, saying that the genus has "never been well studied".[4] In 2008, Tillich provided a key to the 93 species known at that time.[8]

As of July 2013, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP) accepted 101 species:[11]

  1. Aspidistra acetabuliformis Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (Guangxi)
  2. Aspidistra alata Tillich – Vietnam (Cao Bang)
  3. Aspidistra albiflora C.R.Lin
  4. Aspidistra alternativa D.Fang & L.Y.Yu – China (Guangxi)
  5. Aspidistra arnautovii Tillich – Vietnam (Hai Phong)
  6. Aspidistra atroviolacea Tillich – Vietnam (Thua Thien)
  7. Aspidistra austrosinensis Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (Guangxi)
  8. Aspidistra basalis Tillich
  9. Aspidistra bicolor Tillich – Vietnam (Thai Nguyen)
  10. Aspidistra bogneri Tillich – Vietnam (Ninh Binh)
  11. Aspidistra brachystyla Aver. & Tillich – Vietnam
  12. Aspidistra caespitosa C.Pei – China (Sichuan)
  13. Aspidistra campanulata Tillich – Vietnam (Tuyen Quang)
  14. Aspidistra carinata Y.Wan & X.H.Lu – China (N Guangxi)
  15. Aspidistra carnosa Tillich – Vietnam (Lam Dong)
  16. Aspidistra cavicola D.Fang & K.C.Yen – China (NW Guangxi)
  17. Aspidistra cerina G.Z.Li & S.C.Tang – China (Guangxi)
  18. Aspidistra chishuiensis S.Z.He & W.F.Xu
  19. Aspidistra claviformis Y.Wan – China (W Guangxi)
  20. Aspidistra coccigera Aver. & Tillich
  21. Aspidistra columellaris Tillich
  22. Aspidistra connata Tillich – Vietnam (Gialai-Kontum)
  23. Aspidistra cruciformis Y.Wan & X.H.Lu – China (NW Guangxi)
  24. Aspidistra cryptantha Tillich – Vietnam (Cao Bang)
  25. Aspidistra cyathiflora Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (Guangxi)
  26. Aspidistra daibuensis Hayata – Taiwan
  27. Aspidistra dodecandra (Gagnep.) Tillich – Indo-China
  28. Aspidistra dolichanthera X.X.Chen – China (SW Guangxi)
  29. Aspidistra ebianensis K.Y.Lang & Z.Y.Zhu – China (Sichuan)
  30. Aspidistra elatior Blume – Japan (Ōsumi Islands)
  31. Aspidistra erecta Yan Liu & C.I Peng
  32. Aspidistra fasciaria G.Z.Li – China (?Guangxi)
  33. Aspidistra fenghuangensis K.Y.Lang – China (W Hunan)
  34. Aspidistra fimbriata F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan)
  35. Aspidistra flaviflora K.Y.Lang & Z.Y.Zhu – China (SC Sichuan)
  36. Aspidistra foliosa Tillich – Vietnam (Thua Thien)
  37. Aspidistra fungilliformis Y.Wan – China (W Guangxi)
  38. Aspidistra geastrum Tillich – Vietnam (Thua Thien)
  39. Aspidistra glandulosa (Gagnep.) Tillich – Laos (La Khon)
  40. Aspidistra gracilis Tillich
  41. Aspidistra grandiflora Tillich – Vietnam (Hoa Binh)
  42. Aspidistra guangxiensis S.C.Tang & Yan Liu – China (Guangxi)
  43. Aspidistra hekouensis H.Li – China (SE Yunnan)
  44. Aspidistra huanjiangensis G.Z.Li & Y.G.Wei – China (Gunangxi)
  45. Aspidistra insularis Tillich – Japan (Kuroshima Island)
  46. Aspidistra lateralis Tillich – Vietnam (Thua Thien)
  47. Aspidistra leshanensis K.Y.Lang & Z.Y.Zhu – China (SC Sichuan)
  48. Aspidistra leyeensis Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (NW Guangxi)
  49. Aspidistra liboensis S.Z.He & J.Y.Wu
  50. Aspidistra linearifolia Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (W Guangxi)
  51. Aspidistra lobata Tillich – China (Sichuan)
  52. Aspidistra locii Arnautov & Bogner – Vietnam
  53. Aspidistra longanensis Y.Wan – China (WC Guangxi)
  54. Aspidistra longifolia Hook.f. – India
  55. Aspidistra longiloba G.Z.Li – China (Guangxi)
  56. Aspidistra longipedunculata D.Fang – China (SW Guangxi)
  57. Aspidistra longipetala S.Z.Huang – China (C Guangxi)
  58. Aspidistra longituba Yan Liu & C.R.Lin
  59. Aspidistra luodianensis D.D.Tao – China (NW Guangxi, S Guizhou)
  60. Aspidistra lurida Ker Gawl. – China (Guangdong, NC Guangxi, SC Guizhou)
  61. Aspidistra lutea Tillich – Vietnam (Son La)
  62. Aspidistra marasmioides Tillich – Vietnam (Hai Phong)
  63. Aspidistra marginella D.Fang & L.Zeng – China (SW Guangxi)
  64. Aspidistra minutiflora Stapf – China (N Guangdong, Guangxi, ?Guizhou, Hainan, Hong Kong, SW Hunan)
  65. Aspidistra molendinacea G.Z.Li & S.C.Tang – China (Guangzi)
  66. Aspidistra muricata F.C.How – China (NC & W Guangxi)
  67. Aspidistra mushaensis Hayata – Taiwan
  68. Aspidistra nanchuanensis Tillich – China (Sichuan)
  69. Aspidistra nikolaii Aver. & Tillich – Vietnam (Annamite Mts.)
  70. Aspidistra obconica C.R.Lin & Yan Liu
  71. Aspidistra oblanceifolia F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (S Guizhou, W Hubei, Sichuan)
  72. Aspidistra obliquipeltata D.Fang & L.Y.Yu – China (Guangxi)
  73. Aspidistra oblongifolia F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (N Guangxi)
  74. Aspidistra omeiensis Z.Y.Zhu & J.L.Zhang – China (Sichuan)
  75. Aspidistra opaca Tillich – Vietnam (Khanh Hoa)
  76. Aspidistra papillata G.Z.Li – China (Guangxi)
  77. Aspidistra patentiloba Y.Wan & X.H.Lu – China (C Guangxi)
  78. Aspidistra petiolata Tillich – Vietnam (Thua Thien)
  79. Aspidistra pileata D.Fang & L.Y.Yu – China (Guangxi)
  80. Aspidistra pingtangensis S.Z.He
  81. Aspidistra punctata Lindl. – China (Guandong, Hong Kong)
  82. Aspidistra punctatoides Yan Liu & C.R.Lin
  83. Aspidistra q­ripartita G.Z.Li & S.C.Tang – China (Guangxi)
  84. Aspidistra recondita Tillich – Vietnam (location not known)
  85. Aspidistra renatae Bräuchler – Vietnam (central)
  86. Aspidistra retusa K.Y.Lang & S.Z.Huang – China (NE Guangxi)
  87. Aspidistra saxicola Y.Wan – China (WC Guangxi)
  88. Aspidistra sichuanensis K.Y.Lang & Z.Y.Zhu – China (Guangxi, Guizhou, W Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan)
  89. Aspidistra spinula S.Z.He – China (Guizhou)
  90. Aspidistra stricta Tillich – Vietnam (Lam Dong)
  91. Aspidistra subrotata Y.Wan & C.C.Huang – China (S & W Guangxi), Vietnam (Thai Nguyen)
  92. Aspidistra superba Tillich – Vietnam (Ninh Binh)
  93. Aspidistra sutepensis K.Larsen – Vietnam (Paypa)
  94. Aspidistra tonkinensis (Gagnep.) F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (NW Guangxi, S Guizhou, SE Yunnan), Vietnam
  95. Aspidistra triloba F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (SC Hunan, W Jiangxi)
  96. Aspidistra tubiflora Tillich – China (Sichuan)
  97. Aspidistra typica Baill. – China (SW Guangxi, SE Yunnan), Vietnam
  98. Aspidistra umbrosa Tillich – Vietnam (location not known)
  99. Aspidistra urceolata F.T.Wang & K.Y.Lang – China (Guizhou)
  100. Aspidistra xilinensis Y.Wan & X.H.Lu – China (NW Guangxi)
  101. Aspidistra zongbayi K.Y.Lang & Z.Y.Zhu – China (Sichuan)

Two species were published in 2013, but as of July 2013 were not accepted by WCSP:

Distribution and ecology[edit]

Aspidistra flower

Species of Aspidistra are part of the ground flora, growing in forests and under shrubs, in areas of high rainfall,[5] from eastern India, Indochina and China through to Japan.[13] The largest number of species are found in Guangxi Province, China, with Vietnam occupying second place. Few species have a broad distribution, with many being endemic to China or Vietnam.[10]

It has long been said that slugs and snails pollinate Aspidistra flowers.[5] This has been described as a "myth".[10] Amphipods, small terrestrial crustaceans, are responsible for pollinating A. elatior in Japan. Amphipods have also been shown to pollinate species of Aspidistra introduced to Australia. Springtails and fungus gnats have also been suggested as pollinators.[10] The newly described Vietnamese species A. phanluongii is probably pollinated by flies of the genus Megaselia.[12]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Aspidistra elatior, the "cast-iron plant", is a popular houseplant, surviving shade, cool conditions and neglect. It is one of several species of Aspidistra that can be grown successfully outdoors in shade in temperate climates, where they will generally cope with temperatures down to −5 °C (23 °F), being killed by frosts of −5 to −10 °C (23 to 14 °F) or below. In addition to shade, aspidistras require an open, acidic and humus-rich soil. Species suggested for growing outdoors in the UK include A. diabuensis, A. elatior, A. lurida, A. typica, A. zongbyi and their cultivars.[5]

In Japan, leaves of A. elatior have traditionally been cut into pieces and used in bento and osechi boxes to keep each food separated. However, imitations called "baran" are commonly used now.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

As a popular foliage houseplant, A. elatior became popular in late Victorian Britain, and was so commonplace that it became a "symbol of dull middle-class respectability".[6] As such, it was central to George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, as a symbol of the need of the middle class to maintain respectability—according to Gordon Comstock, the novel's protagonist. It was further immortalised in the 1938 song "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World", which as sung by Gracie Fields became a popular wartime classic.[14]

Aspidistras can withstand deep shade, neglect, dry soil, hot temperatures and polluted in-door air (from burning coal or natural gas) but are sensitive to bright sunlight.[15]

"Aspidistra" was the codename (inspired by the above song) of a very powerful British radio transmitter used for propaganda and deception purposes against Nazi Germany during World War II.[16]

The 1980s British television show The Adventure Game featured a moving aspidistra called the Rangdo of Arg, operated by Kenny Baker.[17][18]



  1. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. ^ Flora of China, Vol. 24 Page 240, 蜘蛛抱蛋属 zhi zhu bao dan shu, Aspidistra Ker Gawler, Bot. Reg. 8: t. 628. 1822.
  4. ^ a b c d Liang, Songyun & Tamura, Minoru N., Aspidistra, retrieved 16 July 2013, in Wu, Zhengyi; Raven, Peter H. & Hong, Deyuan, eds. (1994), Flora of China (online),
  5. ^ a b c d e Brown 2013
  6. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, s.v.
  7. ^ a b Averyanov, Leonid V.; Tillich, Hans-Juergen (2013), "Aspidistra truongii – a New Species of Asparagaceae (Convallariaceae s.str.) from Southern Vietnam", Taiwania, 58 (2): 108–111, doi:10.6165/tai.2013.58.108
  8. ^ a b Tillich 2008
  9. ^ Chase, M.W.; Reveal, J.L. & Fay, M.F. (2009), "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (2): 132–136, doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x
  10. ^ a b c d Constantine 2008
  11. ^ Search for "Aspidistra", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 15 July 2013
  12. ^ a b Vislobokov, Nikolay A.; Kuznetsov, Andrey N. & Sokoloff, Dmitry D. (2013), "A new species of Aspidistra (Ruscaceae s.l., Asparagales) from southern Vietnam, field observations on its flowering and possible pollination by flies (Phoridae)", Plant Systematics and Evolution, 299 (2): 347–355, doi:10.1007/s00606-012-0725-2, S2CID 14059501
  13. ^ "Aspidistra", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 16 July 2013
  14. ^ "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World"
  15. ^ Aspidistra elatior – Cast Iron Plant, House Plants Guru, 2010, retrieved 16 February 2013
  16. ^ Porter, Dave & Matheson, Andy (2009), "Tricks of the Trade: Aspidistra and OSE5" (PDF), Signal (12): 15–17, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2012, retrieved 15 July 2013
  17. ^ "The Adventure Game". BBC Cult. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Forget the Crystal Maze, BBC cult classic The Adventure Game is back". Metro. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2020.


External links[edit]