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Sunday – February 10, 2008

From: Newark, DE
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: How to eradicate chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata)
Answered by: Nan Hampton


How do I get rid of a invasive ground covering plant called Camelion without hurting the ground so I can plant something else?


Mr. Smarty Plants thinks you must be talking about Houttuynia cordata (chameleon plant), a native of Asia that has been introduced as an ornamental. Although it doesn’t appear on the USDA’s Invasive Species database yet, it does appear on the Global Invasive Species Database as a species to be watched because it grows and spreads so rapidly. It is also difficult to eradicate. One reason it is difficult to control is that it spreads from underground rhizomes and can root from broken stems and pieces of plants that fall to the ground. This database recommends manually removing the plants and as many of the roots and rhizomes as possible and disposing of them by incinerating them. They suggest that this will have to be repeated several times to completely get rid of the plants. In other words, you will need to be vigilant to completely eradicate this pest! This is the least harmful method to your land for eradicating this pest. Another possibility is chemical treatment although it appears that this plant is somewhat resistant to herbicides. The Wildflower Center neither condemns nor condones the use of herbicides. Sometimes they are a viable solution, but we don’t make specific herbicide recommendations. If you decide to pursue a chemical solution, please be sure that you follow carefully the instructions that come with the herbicide to protect yourself and the environment. You might also check with the Delaware Cooperative Extension to see if they have dealt with eradicating this pest in your area. They do have an article, “Your Lawn’s 25 Worst Weed Enemies“, that discusses chemical weed control.

You can also read a previous answer to a question from someone in Texas who was having a similar problem with Houttuynia cordata.

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Biological Control of Invasive Plants in the United States (2004) Coombs, E. M. , J. K. Clark , G. L. Piper; A. F. Cofrancesco Invasive Plants: Changing the Landscape of America (2000) Westbrooks, R. G. Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C. Search More Titles in Bibliography

I have a very invasive plant called Houttuynia Cordata (Chameleon) that I…

Hi Summit County,

You really have a problem on your hands. Houttuynia cordata is one of the most invasive plants that we deal with. It was planted usually as an interesting ground cover plant that can take anything from wet to dry sites. You can even use it near a pond and it will survive. It is hardy to – 20 because it has roots that go very deep.

Here is what I would recommend: You will have to resort to using a vegetation killer like Roundup or something with Glyphosate as the main ingredient. We have had to deal with Canada Thistle in the past and have found the best way in the long run is to take out of the bed all the plants that you want to save. You must examine the roots of the plants to make sure there are no segments of the roots of the chameleon plant in there with the desired plants. Take the plants and pot them up somewhere that you can care for them. Then spray the foliage of the chameleon plant with the vegetation killer. Yes, it will take some time to kill the plant. Yes, you will have to make many applications but if you keep with it you can kill it off. I would spray the roundup now as fall is approaching as that is when it will work the best. Roundup works by being taken up into the plant and then taken into the roots. The plant is normally storing food into the roots in the fall and all the spray material will be taken to the roots.

You must pay attention to the label on the vegetation killer. Use rubber gloves and long sleeves and wear suitable rubber boots and long sleeves and pants. Most vegetation killers these days contain a “spreader-sticker” in the spray material that makes the spray droplets spread out on contact and stick to the leaves. That is what you want – complete total coverage.

OK, so it all died off. You are not done because it has a lot of underground rhizomes that will sprout and send up a shoot and leaf. When that happens you should wait until a lot of the leaves are present again and then apply the vegetation killer as before. You will probably have to keep applying over the next couple of years until you don’t see any sprouts.

I googled about the plant and found a blog that had a lot of people writing that they couldn’t control the plant. There were some who used the vegetation killer and were DILIGENT in keeping up with the spray and they succeeded in killing it out after about two years. You can’t give up and just spray once – you must dedicate the time and energy to reapplying the spray whenever it comes up again.

I hope this helps you. I’m glad we didn’t bring a plant home years ago! Don

Chameleon Plant

Chameleon Plant

Chameleon plant is a perennial vine that provides instant garden color in the form of dark blue-green leaves splashed with cream, pink, and red. (Inconspicuous flower spikes appear in mid- to-late spring.) It’s primarily grown as a ground cover in areas that range from moist to wet. For the backyard gardener, this plant is best suited for container gardens because it spreads invasively if not kept in check.

genus name
  • Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
  • Under 6 inches,
  • 6 to 12 inches
  • Up to several feet
flower color
  • White
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Groundcover,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8,
  • 9
  • Division,
  • Seed

Chameleon Plant Care Must-Knows

Chameleon plant grows best in moist, humusy soil and full sun or part shade. (But note the brightly variegated leaves develop better color when grown in full sun.) It readily tolerates 2 or more inches of standing water, which makes it a great plant for growing along a stream or pond, or in a water garden.

No matter where you site chameleon plant, it’s essential to confine this rampant grower that spreads via rhizomes. For in-ground planting, site it where structures such as sidewalks or buildings can restrict growth. Or, put the plant in a soil-filled container without drainage holes. Sink the container into the ground, leaving the lip of the pot 2 inches above the soil line. You can also place the container in a pond or stream, situating it so the rim is just below the water surface. For ultimate peace of mind, restrict chameleon plant to a container garden.

Get the container gardening design basics here.

Planting Companions

Plant this vine with other moisture-loving perennials to get a colorful display that delights the eye from spring through fall. Canna, which produces large gladiolus-type flowers, thrives in full sun and moist (not wet) soil. Choose a dwarf variety of canna such as ‘Tropical Breeze’ or ‘Tropical Rose (they grow just 18 to 30 inches tall) to use with chameleon plant in a container garden. Or choose elephant ear, a water-loving plant that grows well in part shade and moist soil. Pair pollinator-favorite bee balm with chameleon plant in the perennial garden.

Try growing chameleon plant on this vine trellis.

Plant Chameleon Plant With:

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Take a walk down the primrose path and you’ll never look back! Primroses are a classic cottage flower and are popular with collectors. They covet the hundreds of different primroses available, especially some of the tiny rare alpine types.Many are staples of cottage gardens and rock gardens, while others provide spring color to damp places, rain gardens, and bog gardens. Their basal rosettes of oval leaves are often puckered or are very smooth. The colorful flowers may be borne singly or rise in tiered clusters, or even spikes. Provide humus-high soil that retains moisture and some shade for best results.

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Colorful lobelias are a wonderful choice for landscaping around ponds and streams — anywhere the soil is consistently moist. In fact, lobelia even loves downright wet conditions, making it a top choice for bog gardens.Perennial type of lobelia (not to be confused with the low-growing, often blue annual types) are magnets for hummingbirds, so they’re great for wildlife gardens. The foliage is a handsome rich green to sometimes dark reddish purple. The plant produces striking spikes of flowers in all shades of red, pink, blue, and white. Lobelia needs humus-rich soil. Mulch with a biodegradable material, such as wood bark or chopped leaves, to add humus to the soil.

Garden Plans For Chameleon Plant

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How To Stop Chameleon Plants: Learn About Killing Chameleon Plants

Groundcover plants are wonderful ways to decorate a blank part of the garden, quell weeds and add some color and life. Houttuynia cordata, or chameleon plant, is one you may want to avoid, however. It is a tenacious and rapid spreader that often gets out of control. Plus, if you change your mind, killing chameleon plants is almost impossible. At the very least, it takes a spine of steel and dogged determination. Learn how to stop chameleon plants in a way that won’t have you tearing your hair out.

About Chameleon Plants

Chameleon plant is very pretty with its lavender tinged heart-shaped leaves and easy-going nature. But it is this nature that becomes the problem. Chameleon plants grow in USDA zones 5 to 11, in moist to dry soils, full sun to partial shade. Once they get going, there is very little that can stop the plants. Controlling chameleon plants is one of those challenges that will test your determination. Fortunately, the keys on how to get rid of Houttuynia are below.

The chameleon plant is a very useful groundcover or trailing plant. Because it doesn’t mind tough areas and needs little care, it is a perfect plant in those respects. It’s only when you want to remove or control it that the plant’s true nature comes out.

Houttuynia spreads through rhizomes, which are very fragile and break apart easily. Any small part of the rhizome or stem left behind in the soil will resprout. This makes chameleon plant eradication extremely challenging. The fleshy rhizomes also range quite deep and wide, making it even harder to dig out every section.

And because foliar sprays result in the death of leaves and stems but don’t always kill roots, this scrappy plant will just come back again, season after season.

Controlling Chameleon Plants Naturally

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can remove some of the plant without chemicals. The process will take several seasons but does not require chemicals.

Start at the outer edges of the patch, digging about 2 feet (.61 m.) outside of the visible foliage and stems. Remove rhizomes as you find them and bag them. Dig down at least 12 inches (30 cm.). It is useful to have a large tarp handy to place shovels full of soil and sift through for pieces of rhizome, leaves, or stems. Take sifted soil and store in another part of the garden. Once you have gone through the entire bed, you can return the “cleaned” soil.

Keep an eye on the area and remove any plants that sprout. You may have to do the entire process again for the next season or two.

How to Get Rid of Houttuynia for Good

Total chameleon plant eradication is possible but it takes several years. Unfortunately, back-breaking labor and chemicals are the components necessary for killing chameleon plants.

Although the plants are fairly resistant to chemical herbicides, glyphosate seems to be an effective type. Use with caution and look for a formula that is labeled for brush or stumps.

In order to minimize the amount used and prevent drift, cut back the plants and paint or drip a small amount of the chemical on the open stem. This reduces the amount you must use and gets the formula right on the plant. You may still have to reapply the next season, but this has an excellent chance of killing the plant in time.

Note: Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and much more environmentally friendly.

We get frequent desperate requests for help with this invasive plant which has no business being sold. Houttuynia, botanical name houttuynia cordata. is a horrible non-native (foreign) invasive plant that spreads by its rhizomes (roots). Kill it as fast as possible.
Usually, it is sold in a variegated version known as ‘Chameleon Plant.’ But, after a few years, it reverts to its original color. Either way, it rapidly becomes obnoxious and nearly impossible to get rid of.

Due to its aggressive nature it is extremely difficult to eliminate. If you have no other plants in the garden bed, you can try hitting it with glyphosate , a nonselective systemic herbicide (that kills the roots) and then hand dig the plants that the chemical does not kill. Glyphosate is found in products such as Roundup and will kill all types of plant material, so you must be very careful to not apply it to the lawn or other desirable plants. It will probably take several applications to have any noticeable effect on the Houttuynia. Early fall is a good time to kill hard-to-kill plants with glyphosate because the plants will translocate the herbicide down to their root system at that time of year. Spray, wait 2 weeks, then spray again.

When you have killed off some the plants then dig the remaining plants. This plant spreads by rhizomes. You must be sure to dig up all of these underground horizontal stems or they will sprout new growth. You will then need to monitor the area for new growth and spray or dig as it appears. It will probably take more than a year to rid the area of the Houttuynia . Do not replant the area until you are sure all of the Houttuynia is gone. Consider this a military campaign, not a single battle.

If the Houttuynia is mixed in a bed with other plants, it is riskier to use chemicals because you may kill the desirable plants. You have a few options. You can hand dig the Houttuynia. Again it will take some time to get all of the plants and their rhizomes. You could try painting the glyphosate on the Houttuynia with a small foam paint brush. Or spray, but use a shield of cardboard or plastic to keep spray off desirable plants. By doing this you would be less likely to apply the chemical on the desired plants. Then hand dig any Houttuynia that is not killed by the chemical. A last option is to remove the desirable plants to another bed and use the chemical and mechanical method described in the above paragraph. If you decide to do the last option, be very careful not to move any of the Houttuynia rhizomes to the new bed. You may want to wash or shake almost all the soil off the plant roots to be sure no houttuynia is entangled. These rhizomes could very easily be mixed with the desirable plant roots.
Here are links to a couple of sites that discuss Houttuynia removal.

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