What is Astelia?

Alex Tree

Also known as the "silver spear," Astelia is a genus of about 25 low-growing perennial plants, most of which have a lustrous silver color. The leaves have a sword-like appearance and grow upright in a silver shade, giving it its nickname. It is part of the lily family and native to New Zealand.

Astelia plants are fond of humid, swamp areas.
Astelia plants are fond of humid, swamp areas.

Plants in the Astelia genus form a dense cluster of leaves and grow to around 4.2 feet (1.2 m) tall, and 6.5 feet (2 m) wide. Individual leaves can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 m) and 3.9 inches (10 cm) wide. The leaves are covered with tiny silver hairs which create a shiny look. The plants also bloom with white flowers, and occasionally bear orange-colored berries during summer.

The silver spear is known to be tolerant of all seasons. It grows all year round, and is fond of bountiful sunlight as well as cool and humid areas. This plant can grow in a wide variety of soil, though tropical areas are best for optimum growth. It can survive near freezing temperatures; however, it will need some protection during these times.

Astelia plants are often considered a good element in floral art. Many flower exhibits feature them as decorative pieces along with other foliage. In exhibits, the leaves are rolled, curled, and bended gracefully to accentuate the main pieces of a floral design. The silver color and the flexibility of the leaves are factors that made this plant a popular floral art feature.

Versatility and low maintenance makes these plants a good addition to gardens. An Astelia plant can be used as a centerpiece of a garden as it is a low growing shrub brimming with showy, silver leaves. This plant can create a stylish feature in a garden, even if potted, and is an ideal landscape plant.

The Astelia chathamica and Astelia banksii varieties of the plant have similar characteristics, with a silver luster in their leaves, and both are also lenient in regards to the weather. These two plants can be distinguished by the fact that the A. chathamica variety has arching leaves and bears cream-colored flowers. The A. banksii variety, however, has narrower leaves and grows longer than the A. chathamica.

Another variety, the Astelia grandis, stands out as it prefers damp locations. It is fond of humid, swamp areas and is more likely found growing alongside tree ferns. This particular Astelia plant does not have the same satin finish as that of the other two species.

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