Chameleon Herb

Chameleon Houttuynia; aka:
Chinese Lizard-tail
Variegated Fishwort
Tricolor Heartleaf

   

Variegated Houttuynia cordata is called the Chameleon Herb. It is a very primitive "paleoherb" upon which dinosaurs once nibbled.

Although I never planted any, it has sprung up in a couple of places along the alley. It's rather a terrible weed when it gets going, spreading by thick white rhizomes. It only takes an odd fragment of the thick roots to get started.

Last year & the year before, whenever I first saw little starts of this plant poking out of the ground, I pulled it up & discarded it as with any other weedy invader. But this year (2003) I took pity on it & have thus far let it be, though I'm still undecided whether to let it get established, as it's awfully hard to get rid of once it's been encouraged. I've about half decided that its no-maintenance presence out by the alley couldn't hurt.

It's often sold as a bog plant because it thrives in water as high as the root crown. But it is also drought hardy & adapts to dryer locations. It does fine in sun or shade, but the variegated leaves have more hues of pink, cream, green & bronze when in the sun.

The white flowers appear in June & July, but it is valued less for the flowers than for the colorful variegated leaves, which have a scent of citrus if crushed. The white roots or scented too.

In Asia the leaves are used in salads, & the white roots cleaned & cut to lengths make a spicy substitute for bean sprouts. The strain native to Viet Nam has a flavor akin to coriander, while the Japanese strain is a sweet combination of lemon, orange, & ginger.

The species is found in much of China, Java, Nepals, Southeast Asia & Japan, perfering temperate zones or cool mountain heights. The variegated form most popular for gardens is native of Korea. It is the only species in its genus, named after Martin Houttuyn (1720-1798), a Dutch physician & botanist.

   



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