Houttuynia Cordata is a perennial plant with orange-scented, heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. Because of its propensity to regrow rhizomes from any part of its leaf, it is considered an invasive plant.

Houttuynia can be mistaken for Japanese knotweed. Although it can easily spread through its rhizomes (it loves moist soils) it generally only reaches 30 centimetres in height. Compare that to Japanese knotweed which grows to three metres tall in the right conditions and it’s clear that the comparison ends there.

There are two species within the genus Houttuynia. Houttuynia Cordata and Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon.

This blog post will provide an in-depth guide on what Houttuynia Cordata are, how they grow, and how to eradicate them from your garden.

Quick Facts

Common names: Fish leaf, fish mint, rainbow plant, chameleon plant, Heart-leaved houttuynia ‘Flame’, Harlequin plant ‘Flame’, fish wort or Chinese lizard tail.
Scientific name: Houttuynia
Family: Saururaceae
Origin: non-native
Flowering season: May to August
Habitat: flower borders, beds, garden edging, boggy damp conditions

Houttuynia Cordata Identification

The Houttuynia Cordata is a large, fleshy plant with deeply cut leaves and long pink or white flowers. It can grow up to four meters tall in the wild but will thrive if given plenty of light – though it prefers indirect sunlight instead.

Houttuynia Cordata is a low growing plant that can grow in wet or dry soil. It has palm-shaped heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges and grows between two feet tall, depending on how much sunlight it receives at one time

The identification of this little-known plant might seem difficult but there are some characteristics you should look out for: young shoots will have brown stem tips while older ones may be greenish; their colouration changes drastically when moved from bright light environments into darker places such as shade dominated forests since they need lots more energy

What do Houttuynia Cordata look like?

Characteristics that make up the Houttuynia Cordata leaf, stem, root and flower are detailed below.

Houttuynia is rhizomatous perennials with pungently orange-scented, heart-shaped leaves and tiny yellow flowers in spikes with usually 4 prominent white bracts at the base.

Houttuynia Cordata leaves are heart-shaped
Houttuynia Cordata leaves are heart-shaped

Leaves: The leaves develop the brightest colours in full sun, but has pretty gold-edged leaves when grown in shade. reddish in shadier areas and more greenish in sunnier areas.

The leaves are usually heart-shaped, 4-10 cm long and 2.5-6.0 cm wide, and purple underneath.

Purplish-red stem of the Houttuynia Cordata
The purplish-red stem of the Houttuynia Cordata

Stems: The proximal part of the stem is trailing and produces adventitious roots, while the distal part of the stem grows vertically.

The stems are green or sometimes purplish red, and either smooth or pubescent on the nodes. The lower parts of the leaf stalks form a sheath around the stem.

Roots: Houttuynia Cordata is a rhizomatous perennial that typically grows 9-15” tall and spreads indefinitely and often vigorously by rhizomes.

Houttuynia Cordata is a creeping herb 30-60 cm high, with thin, spreading rhizomes that are very fragile and break easily apart.

Houttuynia Cordata flower with its white basal bracts
Houttuynia Cordata flower with its white basal bracts

Flowers: Its flowers are greenish-yellow and greenish-white. Densely clustered on short spikes and borne on a terminal spike 2–3 cm (3⁄4–1+1⁄4 in) long with four to six large white basal bracts.

Houttuynia Cordata seeds ready to propagate
Houttuynia Cordata seeds ready to propagate

Fruits/Seeds: Houttuynia Cordata seeds are small, round and dark brown in colour.

Smell: Orange-scented foliage which is aromatic when bruised. There are two distinct chemotypes: the Japanese type has an orange scent, whereas the Chinese type has a smell resembling coriander.

The Problem

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.

Example of the Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon
Example of the Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon

Houttuynia Cordata Seasonal Changes

Houttuynia Cordata, has trifoliate leaves and small white petals with yellow stamen on them that blooms from June to July once every year when it grows around 10-15 centimetres tall before dying off again after shedding flowers at random intervals during its life span.

Houttuynia Cordata in Spring

Flowers appear in mid to late spring. It can be slow to emerge in spring but spreads quickly underground if not contained.

Houttuynia Cordata in Summer

Houttuynia Cordata is a type of plant that typically grows in the summer. It has dark green leaves and long-lasting white flowers with purple centres, but sometimes it does not have any at all!

Its summer flowers are simple, white with prominent centres. In hot summers, the red edges of the leaves are even more pronounced.

The first stalks appear in mid-summer, gently pushing up and slowly unfurling to reveal their wonderful leaves. At the first sign of frost, it disappears below ground till next summer.

Houttuynia Cordata in Autumn

During autumn the leaves change to a multitude of reddish colours depending on how much they bake in.

Houttuynia Cordata in Winter

In winter these plants go through what we call “brumation”, which means they aren’t very active because it gets so cold outside for long periods but during certain times around March/April there will still be some movement with growth since our weather starts warming up again

The multiple colours that differ from one Houttuynia to another
The multiple colours that differ from one Houttuynia to another

How to get rid of Houttuynia Cordata

You can remove portions of the plant without using pesticides if you’re a glutton for punishment. The procedure will take several seasons to complete, but it will not necessitate the use of chemicals.

Method One – Herbicide Treatment

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 labelled 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.

Method Two – Digging it out

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 it 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.

Removal of Houttuynia

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 it in another part of the garden.

Ground cover of the Houttuynia Cordata weed
Ground cover of the Houttuynia Cordata weed

Management of Houttuynia Cordata

The best form of controlling this invasive weed is with Glyphosate weedkillers in order to reduce and eliminate it over a specified time period.

Having a treatment plan and keeping to it will bear promising results.

In Conclusion

Houttuynia Cordata is a tough plant but with this guide outlining all areas for attack, we hope you’re ready to fight back against this enemy before they get too far into your garden again!

Houttuynia Cordata is a very adaptable weed that grows in our gardens today and is one of the most resistant. However, using one of the products mentioned below will eliminate it.

How does Houttuynia Cordata spread?

It propagates by division and the plants spread aggressively by rhizomes.