Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aspidistras making a comeback again.

Was interested to learn that in some circles, Aspidistras are making a comeback again in some gardener’s minds. Now if you don’t know what an aspidistra is: according to Wikipedia, the Aspidistra elatior ("cast-iron plant") is a popular foliage plant, grown as a landscape plant in shaded spots in areas with mild winters, or as a houseplant elsewhere. They are grown for their ability to survive neglect and very shady conditions, indoors and out. As a popular foliage houseplant (particularly in British boarding houses), the plant became popular in late Victorian Britain, and was so commonplace that it became a symbol of middle class values. As such it was central to George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, as a symbol of the middle class's need 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.”
Thus we see that it is a hardy Green garden plant that can grow in heavy shade and under very adverse conditions, and thus was both a very popular indoor plant as well as a common outdoor plant too, until around the middle of the last Century, where because of its drabness and the popularity of other more colourful alternatives, it went out of favour rather until rather recently.
My mother had a very low water maintenance garden, long before it became popular like it is today. Back then, we only had tank water that had to provide for the seven of us. So little was available to be wasted on garden plants. If it couldn’t survive on limited water, then it had no place in mum’s garden. Not so though with the aspidistras plant! Thus among my earliest recollections of any plant at all of the many in mum’s garden, was the old Galvanised Bath tub full of aspidistra, at the bottom of the ramp at the back door under the big old plum tree. It was there, as it was the only plant hardy enough for the dry and the shade, even if it was rather drab looking.
In fact as hinted above, it was this drab looking plainness that caused them to go out of favour for a time. Again according to Wikipedia, up to the 1970’s, Most Garden Books only recognised eight to ten species, which repeats the knowledge of the late 1970s. In the 1980s, thirty new species were described from China. In fact based on current knowledge, China has the most species with some fifty-nine, of which fifty-four are endemic. In fact it is within this region that Aspidistra naturally inhabit the floors of East Asian forests from eastern India, Indochina, China and Japan. And according to Wikipedia, “new species are still being found, and the focus has shifted to Vietnam, from where 28 new species have recently been described; it is known that there are many more Vietnamese species. Currently 93 Aspidistra species have been formally described, and it has been speculated that there may be between two and three hundred. (Tillich 2008).”
So now you know as much about aspidistras as me. But before we leave the biggest aspidistra in the world, apart from its valuable service as a living plant in adverse conditions, they have one other use too! Can you guess what it is?
Again according to Wikipedia, “In Japan, leaves of this species 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. Several other species and cultivars are also in cultivation.”
Well that’s enough about Aspidistras for now, but what about you? Are you tough and Hardy and able to thrive under hard and difficult conditions like the Aspidistra? And are you useful for more than just one purpose too? Or are you just a “one trick pony” that fails under difficult and adverse conditions? And perhaps it is time for you to make a comeback of sorts too and to again show the world your true and enduing worth? Again over to you for now.

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