How to get rid of chameleon plant?

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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

Anyone have luck getting rid of Chameleon Plant??

Get several packs of those cheap thin plastic painters’ dropcloths at Walmart.

On the morning of a sunny day in which no rain is expected, tuck in each one of your hostas carefully with a plastic dropcloth all the way to the base. Make sure that no part of the leaves or stems are uncovered. You want the plastic all the way to the ground, with the plant well-wrapped in plastic.

Do the same for the hydrangeas and the foxglove.

If there is lawn grass adjoining the bed, cover that, too.

Get a big sprayer of something called “brush killer”. This will have a blend of herbicides in it, usually things like glyphosate (i.e. Roundup), triclopyr, 2-4D, picloram, etc. They sell this at Home Depot. It’s like the next step up from ordinary Roundup.

Spray all the houttynia. Let the spray dry completely on the leaves, then unwrap your other plants.

While you’re waiting to see how much of it isn’t dead yet, dig up as many of the roots (rhizomes) as you can.

Repeat this procedure every time it grows back.

It will die back, then re-sprout.


But it’s not immortal. If you keep after it, with a concerted program of herbicides and digging, you will win, eventually. It uses carbohydrate reserves in the roots to fund its regrowth, and if you attack it and destroy its new growth every time it succeeds in making some, then it has to break into the reserves again. If you then destroy those, too, thus preventing it from ever getting out into the light and photosynthesizing to make more carbs, eventually it runs out of carbs, and dies.

But the trick is to keep after it. If you let it grow for a period of time, thinking, “Yeah, I need to get after that chameleon plant, it’s coming back”, then you lose. It has restored its reserves and is business-as-usual. You have to be extremely proactive and destroy every green shoot as soon as it appears.

This plant will come up in cement!! It has actually sprouted through a crack in the walkway beside the bed

Give your husband a propane weed torch for Father’s Day this year.

Chameleon Plant

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.

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

1 rating

Monday – April 11, 2011

From: Omaha, NE
Region: Midwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Eliminating invasive, non-native chameleon plant from Omaha NE
Answered by: Barbara Medford

I have been attempting to eradicate the chameleon plant in my gardens for 3 years. I have sprayed Round Up and covered with newspaper then mulch and it is coming back again this year! I am wondering if I could use the same chemical that is used to eradicate net sedge grass. I believe this chemical travels to the base of the plant and kills its root system. Thanks in advance for your help!

All right, you already know that Houttuynia cordata, Chameleon Plant is invasive. Did you also know that it is native to Japan, Korea and southeast Asia? The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants grow natively. This situation is one of the reasons why we pursue that policy; a non-native plant brought into an area where it has no natural competitors or predators will quickly overrun the more adapted native plants and become very settled into its new environment. Since it is non-native, we will have no information on it in our Native Plant Database, but we found two websites that have some information that might help you:

Garden Web Forum Houttuynia cordata

Ohio State University Houttuynia cordata

Dave’s Garden forum (note all the negative comments)

Because it spreads by underground rhizomes, it is very resistant to any herbicides. You need to dig out the rhizomes, and keep digging out the rhizomes, and then dig out some more rhizomes.

Remember the only sure way to get rid of an invasive plant is to not plant it. Never plant anything, no matter what you are told, until you have personally investigated that plant.

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By George Weigel/The Patriot-News

Q: I have chameleon flowers overtaking my flower beds. How do I get rid of it?

A: Chameleon flower (known botanically as Houttuynia cordata) is a variegated, trailing, wet-soil-tolerant perennial that looks great in a pot but turns into a real thug in the garden. It spreads very fast and outcompetes just about everything in its path, so it doesn’t make a friendly partner to other plants.

It’ll take some doing to eradicate it. If you’re a chemical-oriented person, spray or paint an herbicide such as glyphosate (i.e. Roundup) onto the leaves. Early fall is an ideal time, but anytime in spring or summer also should at least make a dent in the patch.

Glyphosate will help kill the runners and roots as well as the top growth, but you may need several treatments as remnants try to make a comeback. Be sure to avoid getting glyphosate on the leaves of plants you want to keep because it’ll kill them, too.

The non-chemical option is repeated digging or repeated spraying with a vinegar-based herbicide (i.e. acetic acid). Use a digging tool to get as many of the roots as possible, then go on regular patrols to spot-dig any new growth as soon as you see it popping up.

Most garden centers don’t carry this plant because of its invasive potential. When they do, it’s typically relegated to the water-garden section where the plant is going to be contained in a pot in a pond. Most gardeners usually end up with chameleon flower because a friend (?) gave them a division.

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