Chameleon Plant

lisazone6_ma(z6 MA)March 27, 2003

I'm placing this in a few different forums hoping I get some responses. I very ignorantly planted some of this in my back shade bed about 5 years ago. It's called houteyniia or something like that - I know I butchered the spelling. It didn't do anything for the first year, but the year before last it exploded and has swallowed everything in sight. I pulled up some of it last year, but didn't do a great job - I know there's a ton of it lurking underground ready to pop up this year. I am putting in an above-ground pool and a retaining wall is going to have to be built behind the pool because of the change in grade. My question is this - the guy wants to dump all the dirt from the excavated area behind the new wall, which will in effect, bury the area the chameleon plant is under 2 or 3 feet of soil. Will it be able to come up through this or will it be killed by placing all this extra dirt on top? I will dig up the few Hosta, Bleeding Hearts, Corydalis, etc. I have back there and am hoping I can replant these once all the excavating is done and the soil is amended. I don't want to have the same problem tho. I'd rather dig it up now rather than wait and have it come back in an even larger area a couple of years from now. TIA!

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abgardeneer(Z3, Calgary)

No, invasive plants won't come up through 2 or 3 feet of soil. But if the pile of soil is going to just be left as a pile for a while, the houttuynia will come up around the thin edges of the pile. Hope this helps - I don't really understand the details of the construction you're having done, so not sure if this answers your question.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2003 at 11:18AM
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abgardeneer(Z3, Calgary)

Oh, just thought of other things...will the plant be permanently under 2 to 3 feet of soil, or is that just a temporary place for the soil? Roots can remain viable for many, many months, and if the soil is later removed, may grow up again.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2003 at 11:20AM
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lisazone6_ma(z6 MA)

No - it will be there permanently. The guy is going to be building a low retaining wall directly in front of where the chameleon plant is, then he'll dump the excavated soil behind the wall and ontop of the area where the plant is growing.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2003 at 1:43PM
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mudpuppy42(z7 NC)

Having done the same thing with the same plant with the same (invasive) result, I can certainly sympathize! I started trying to dig up all the roots three years ago, and it is STILL coming back! I even resorted to spraying it with brush killer which only succeeded in wilting it a bit before it came back more vigorously than ever. Trust me, this plant is TOUGH! I don't know about 2-3 feet underground, but I know I have dug deeper than 18" and I still find roots. If you really want to get rid of the stuff, I would suggest you do everything possible before the area is dug up, and even so, watch out for new sprouts after the dirt is moved. It's a shame that such a lovely plant has to have such nasty habits.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2003 at 8:52PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Sigh...yet another invasive plant that won't grow for me. I'll just add it to the list of lily of the valley, bishop's weed, japanese anemone, globe thistle, yellow archangel...


    Bookmark   April 8, 2003 at 9:34PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Dee, you are not alone. I have bishop weed in my garden and I am happy to get small patches here and there after 8 years or more. What are we doing we cannot get invasive plants to grow?

Lily of the valley tried 4 times..dead, Chameleon Plant dead, it tried--struggled for 2 ys bye, bye, japanese anemone died on contact with my soil. OH Well..LOL!!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2003 at 7:14PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Well, Marquest, I'm glad to know it's not me! Or if it IS me, at least I'm not the only one, lol!


    Bookmark   April 11, 2003 at 9:10AM
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garden_crazy(z5 N IL)

I'm not above using Roundup 2 or 3 x's strength. Also, I have never tried this, but it seems a reasonable approach...Cover the plants you want to exterinate with black plastic and secure with rocks, stakes, etc. Leave in place in the hot sun for a few weeks and this should sterilize the I've been told. -Roundup is not as environmentally acceptable maybe, but it is faster!

-Enjoy that pool!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2003 at 10:52PM
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see_me_at_5am(z6 KY)

This is the first plant that I have ever detested!!! I would have the dirt hauled off before I would ever knowingly use it any where else!!! The thought of what lies below would spook me!!

I have used triple strength Roundup and the Chameleon just laughs as it continues to multiply and invade!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See Me At 5am

    Bookmark   June 16, 2003 at 9:23AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I have to laugh at this, see me at 5am. NOt at you, but at the fact that I just responded to your post about japanese anemones on the bulb forum. In my post, I wrote that I have problems with plants that other people find invasive, such as bishop's weed. Well, wouldn't you know that this chameleon plant is another one that I can't get to grow, lol? Hmm, maybe I'm just lucky...


    Bookmark   June 16, 2003 at 9:47PM
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lisazone6_ma(z6 MA)

Just wanted to re-post and let anyone who's interested know that the chameleon plant is completely gone. My secret? A backhoe! The excavation had to be much deeper than anticipated and the wall ended up at ground level from the back where the chameleon plant was located. The whole back area had to be scraped down by a backhoe and that took out all the chameleon plant - YES!!!

I will definitely believe it now when something is listed as invasive, aggressive, or a thug!!!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2003 at 1:56PM
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see_me_at_5am(z6 KY)

So very glad to hear the good news! My problem is I made the HUGE mistake of planting it prominantley along side my front porch!
So your "secret" would not work so well for me.

I will continue to dig and hold my nose (I think it smells horrindous) for maybe the rest of my life. Is that a bit dramatic??

See Me At 5am

    Bookmark   June 23, 2003 at 11:59PM
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cfmuehling(7b DC/MD burbs)

Oh, NO!

I loved this plant when I saw it at the nursey, and have planted 2 5 gallon-sized ones in my front, only, shade bed.

It sounds like I'm going to dig it out and move it out next to the trees along the embankment at the road side. Shoot! I loved the colors. But then, if it spreads, it's perfect for the side of this country road, isn't it?

Do you think it will choke out my nemisis? Poison ivy?

I'm so glad I read this, considering I just planted it 2 weeks ago or so. What I'd do without this forum? Havoc in nature...

Thank YOU!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2003 at 4:30PM
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I got some leaves from this plant last year from a friend and have been looking everywhere to purchase one, since my friend moved to FL. I do pressed flowers and this leaf is magnificent!
Anyone have some they want to pass along?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 3:56PM
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I am so upset!! I just bought 8 Chameleon plants!! Planted them around one of my trees. PLEASE don't tell me its invasive!!! Should I pull it out now?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2004 at 2:51PM
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tialisa(z5a IL)

If you keep it dry, it's not THAT bad! Mine has only
spread slowly over three years, and I'm about to put some
in the deeper shade under the pine tree.

Did you know that this plant can be potted up in gravel,
and submerged in water? I dug some up, potted it in a
shallow container with pea gravel and plopped it in the
middle of my birdbath. Looks great!!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 5:09PM
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I love bishops weed and chameleon too

    Bookmark   June 9, 2004 at 12:41PM
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vagarden(7 Central VA)

Can it be contained with a barrier? I have a 30 sq' patch of it on a sunny bank where it looks wonderful, but I want it to stay put. What if I sink 12" high aluminum sheeting into the soil? Will that keep it in check or will it just go under?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2004 at 1:42PM
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thistle(ontario 5b)

I HATE this plant,I hate the colour, the smell and the invasiveness of it.I made the biggest mistake of my gardening life when I introduced this into my garden.Last year I had to dig out a huge rock garden,to try to get rid of it,it is a nightmare,and the little shoots are still appearing. I am trying roundup this year to eradicate
the remnants of this monster. Now variagated bishop weed, whilst a monster in it's own right is just perfect in a shady spot in my garden,I really like this one, so far no problems after 6 years.I must be one of the lucky ones.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2004 at 8:07PM
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Am getting ready to plant some and was doing a search to see the best places to put it, now I guess it really doesn't matter as it sounds like it is gonna grow everywhere!! lol, I like the color of it and have a really shady area way out in the back yard that I think is gonna be the best place for it..., I usually don't water stuff out there too much and only use plants that are gonna be really tough and resilient, think it will do alright?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2004 at 10:12AM
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lonestarhostababe(z8A Texas)

I think houttynnia is lovely and I like the smell. It is not invasive here. Isn't that weird? Please don't kill it. I will pay postage if you will send it to me. There aren't that many shade ground covers for my climate. Thanks.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2004 at 11:48PM
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caf_IA(z5 IA)

Oh, groan...I spotted this plant at an outdoor garden center that I had never been to. I loved the richness of the color, but the garden clerk just shrugged when I asked what he could tell me about it. So I thought I'd take a chance. I noticed it had started to spread so came to this site to find out what I could learn. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy...looks like I'm going to go pull it up before it walks up to my back door and rings the bell. Oh, and my Bishop's Weed is going wild this year, too. I've been able to contain it pretty well up until now, but it certainly does have a mind of its own.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2004 at 3:00PM
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    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 5:56PM
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rjl500(z5 IN)

I have the same problem with the chameleon plant. I've tried round up, round up for poisen ivy, digging it up and also burying it under layers of newspaper, grass clippings and leaves covered with a tarp for the entire fall and winter. Every year I try a different approach. So far I'm managing to kill plants I love that surround it but now have gorgeous soil for it to thrive in. I'd love some new ideas for Indiana.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 2:36AM
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It makes me want to cry when I see this and other invasives sold year in and year out at "nurseries". Shame on them for selling such plants to innocent shoppers. I guess this plant does have its uses (but I am hard pressed to think of any). I was one of the gullible many years ago and added this to my periennial garden. It was a neat plant for about three years and I loved the leaf color varigation it added to the garden. Then about the fourth year it started over taking the bed and squeezing out other plants. I am not a fan of herbicides, so I dug up as much as I could. This was about 5 years ago. I will still get an odd stem every now and then. As soon as I see, I pull and try to get as much root as possible. So far in 2006 - I have yet to see any. So crossing fingers. It has made me a smarter shopper when buying plants. If I see something interesting and am not familiar, I will go home and read first before purchasing. You have my sympathy!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 9:54AM
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Would this plant work in a pot? I haven't heard of it before this forum, so I searched for photos and I can see why so many people have unknowingly purchased it - it is beautiful to look at. Perhaps I could use it as a house plant?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2006 at 1:22PM
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I almost bought some of this about a month ago and then found out it was invasive. So glad I dodged that bullet. I have lily of the valley and if this is half as bad as that I feel for you. I don't know what to do with my lov, I need it but would like to contain it. In the last three years it has tripled in size.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 1:59AM
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I too loved it at first (and I like the smell too). It effectively kept dandelions out of the triangular area where I have 3 mini-dwarf fruit trees, looks pretty with all its colors, and is no work at all to clean up in spring (the leaves just disintegrate during the winter.)

BUT - now that it had taken off like a rocket (it reaches over two feet tall each summer because it's planted where there is an and through the three low stone walls surrounding the area where it was originally planted as a colorful ground cover, spreading into the grass and into our raised bed garden area) - I would do anything to get rid of it.

Yesterday my son and I worked to clear a very small area (about 2 X 2 feet square) and we filled half a large grabage can with the root and root pieces from that small area alone. There's a trick to hand-removing the root so that you don't "pop" and break it (and leave even a tiny bit left to regenerate). You've got to get your hand down at least 18 inches and then "follow the root" (it's often multi-branched) and then try to tease it out all in one piece). But you're bound to find little tiny pieces of root less than an inch long that, if left behind in the soil, can become full scale plant systems.

It reminds me of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Try to kill it or yank it out and it just keeps coming back stronger and stronger like a recurring nightmare.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 6:50PM
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i had gppd luck spraying the edges of the invasive species with a 50/30/20 mixture of roundup, bleach, and water

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 1:51PM
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The chameleon plant was just passed on to me by a friend. She warned me against it's invasiveness. I'm putting it in the ground, however, I am keeping it in a pot once in the ground to keep it from spreading. I made a similar mistake and introduced something very invasive to my community---bamboo grass. It jumps beneath sidewalks. It's out of control.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2011 at 7:34AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

It jumps beneath sidewalks. But you think your houttuynia will be contained by a pot? Pots and sidewalks are not enough to keep plants like these in bounds.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 7:13PM
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I inherited this monster from the former owner of my home. I thought it was a pretty ground cover for the first two years I lived here. Then in year 3 I noticed that it was spreading everywhere--into the other ground cover and into my lawn. And it smelled bad too. Did some research and wow! It is the worst thing to eradicate. I dug it up three times last summer, had to remove part of the lawn, dig up the roots and lay down new sod. Put black plastic down secured by rocks and staples. (The first time I dug it up I was stunned by the smell. It's like dead fish.) Any that popped up I painted with full strength vegetation killer. When the plant withered I dug it up. I managed it contain it last year with this method. Now spring is coming and it is going to be another season of war with the chameleon because I know that there has to be some pieces of the roots that I didn't catch last year. Hoping that catching it early in the season with the digging and vegetation killer will wipe it out, but I don't want to get too hopeful. I just don't want it to spread anywhere else!

I lost a number of nice plants to the chameleon last year because the roots had become entwined into the other plants. I don't know if I will ever get that bed back. I hope it will not become a permanent wasteland.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 5:16PM
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I've been battling this plant for years. I have dug up an entire flower bed to eradicate it. The roots go very deep into the ground and, if you leave even a fraction of an inch of root in the ground, it will sprout and multiply.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 1:20PM
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I believe that there is a use for most any plant, you just have to find the right spot. I grow chamelion plant as a ground cover under Oregon grape holly, in an area where it can be controlled, and it succeeds in the shade where nothing else did. I have a bed of lily of the valley under a mimosa, also controllable, and an isolated ground cover of euonymous wintercreeper, another aggressive thug that gets a good trimming a couple times a year. Japanese honeysuckle climbs a trellis and I am very careful to cut off any wandering, ground-
creeping tendrils. Other ground-eating perennials find their way to an area at the end of my woods where they can compete with each other, far away from my garden beds, and give me a riot of color in the summer and fall.

There are a lot worse invasives than these manageable plants that do need to be eliminated totally, and what is invasive in one area of the country might not be a problem in another.

Observation is a good clue to the aggressiveness of a plant before you ever put it in the ground: tip it out of the pot and take a close look at the roots. If it has new shoots coming up the side of the root ball or out of the bottom of the pot, beware, that plant is going to spread by runners and take up a lot of territory! And if the description says, spreads well, colonizes nicely, or other such words, buyer beware!

And be aware of the invasive plant list for your area, and avoid the plants on it like the plague! Are you aware that the coveted Japanese maple is considered invasive in some areas, for example? Always research any new plant before putting it in the ground-- and beware of friends bearing gift plants they want to get rid of, lol!

Fifty some years of gardening has taught me a lot, and yes I've made a lot of mistakes with garden thugs, some of which I'm still paying for. But I have also acquired a lot of sharp tools for digging things out!


    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 10:30AM
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There are a lot worse invasives than the chameleon plant?

Seriously????? Please name a few.

Yes, Yard Mom, pull it out or find someone you don't like and plant it in their yard (JK).

No, see me, you're not being dramatic, it is a horrid, horrid plant, and nurseries are being very irresponsible when they sell it. Or, do they sell kudzu too?

I just noticed these posters are from 2003, I hope this despicable plant didn't jump their sidewalks (good one, purpleinopp and so true), take over their houses, and smother them while they slept. I don't doubt this monstrous plant could do just that, if left to its own devices.

It will be here after the End Of The World, trust me.

1 Like    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 8:26AM
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I have had chameleon plants on the north side of my house for about 5 years, planted next to some nice purple ajuga. I figured they'd fight it out! Chameleon did not start to spread at all until last summer. However, this year that bed has been taken over by some sort of broad-leaf ferns which have pretty much choked out the ajuga and are now working on the chameleon!I've seen these ferns in our woods, but don't know why they have decided to visit the house. I'm waiting to see how much of it to pull out.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 10:23AM
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Name.a few? Ok, autumn clematis. Throws seeds everywhere and you can't just pull it out, even small plants. It has to be dug out or killed.

Garlic chives, ditto. Forget to deadhead it once or miss one and you won't have anything else in your garden.

Old-fashioned tall purple garden phlox. Reseeds everywhere, takes over any perennial bed you plant it in.

Virginia waterleaf, a native wildflower that makes an impenetrable mat of rhizomes nothing can grow thru, throws seed everywhere. has to be dug out, but miss one piece and you'll have to start over in the spring. I understand it is on the endangered list in some northern states.

Violets. Good thing I like them because they invade every corner. Reseed and come up thick as grass. Another invasive native.

Native pipevine. If it wasn't for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly caterpillars I would take Roundup to the whole mess, it sends out runners 30' away.

Perennial sweet pea. The old fashioned one your grandmother used to grow. Roots like a tree, can't pull them out, flings seed everywhere.

Bermuda grass. Worst lawn grass ever, if it ever gets in a flower bed, might as well forget the whole thing because you are never going to get it out.

Bamboo. I don't have it but I've seen what it can do to a garden and Roundup will not kill it.

Kudzu. Callery pear trees. Autumn olive. Multiplier rose. And on and on. I'll take a few pretty chameleon plants any day rather than deal with these monsters.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 9:32AM
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The plant from Hell! Too bad I didn't listen when told I wouldn't want it in my yard. However, I am glad to say I have been successful getting rid of most of it. Every time I say a sprout, I dug it out, digging as deep as possible to remove as much as I could.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 8:10PM
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