Dig through the soil carefully, looking for pieces of the rhizome.

How to Remove Houttuynia Cordata

by Michelle Z. Donahue

Perhaps you were strolling through the nursery and spotted an unusual plant. Its heart-shaped leaves were mottled with painterly splotches of green, yellow and pink, and creamy white flowers were just starting to open on its succulent stems. The plant tag says it likes moist sites though it will grow just about anywhere. If you bought it and planted it, you already know this plant was too good to be true. Houttuynia cordata, commonly called chameleon plant, is potentially one of the nursery trade’s most invasive plants, growing rapidly, persistently and in a huge range of growing conditions, from U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 8. Because it roots from any piece of underground rhizome left behind, chameleon plant requires thorough digging and sifting to remove all plant parts, and more than likely, repeated digs in succeeding years.

Check the growing area carefully before beginning to dig to determine the extent of the chameleon plant’s spread. More than likely, the fleshy underground rhizomes will extend beyond where you see above-ground leaves.

Start digging 1 to 2 feet beyond the outermost edges of the growing area. Look for the thick, white rhizomes, which have a lemony -- or rotten fish, to some -- odor they emit when damaged. The rhizomes are brittle and break easily, so take care to remove any tiny piece that falls back into the dirt.

Dig down 1 foot or more to check for rhizomes. In moist or rich soils, rhizomes can easily grow this deep.

Scoop out one shovelful of dirt at a time onto the tarp and sift through it with your fingers, removing any pieces of root, stem or leaf and placing them in a bucket.

Empty the sifted dirt elsewhere in the garden or yard while you’re working on removing chameleon plant.

Work your way methodically from section to section of garden, digging as deeply and widely as necessary to follow any meandering rhizomes to their end point. Dig carefully and handle rhizomes gently, which will make it easier to dig up larger pieces more quickly.

Replace the sifted dirt back into the cleared bed once you’re satisfied you’ve removed as much stem and root as possible.

Dig out or pull up any sprouts that appear after clearing the bed. You may need to go through the bed again the following year if more than a few sprouts pop up.

Items you will need

  • Shovel or hand trowel
  • Bucket
  • Small tarp or sheet


  • Dispose of the chameleon plant parts in the garbage, or burn them. Don't add chameleon plant to your compost bin -- it will simply take root there. Check local laws before burning garden waste.
  • Chameleon plant roots will wind through the roots of other plants, so you may need to dig up and sift through the roots of perennials growing nearby to remove chameleon plant rhizomes.
  • Rhizomes will also grow across long distances through channels provided by hollowed-out dead tree roots, so break up any possible conduit where the rhizomes might be hiding.
  • Be patient and thorough, taking breaks when you tire of the tedium of removing tiny root shoots. Chameleon plant regenerates relentlessly. Unless you want this plant moving back in just as aggressively as it did before you cleared it away, take your time in removing this invader.

About the Author

Michelle Z. Donahue has worked as a journalist in the Washington, D.C., region since 2001. After several years as a government and economic reporter, she now specializes in gardening and science topics. Donahue holds a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University.

Photo Credits

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