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Is Chameleon Plant Invasive? How to Remove It?

If you are growing a Chameleon plant on the ground, be cautious because this reptilian plant is considered invasive!

Generally, the Chameleon plant is considered an invasive species in several countries, including the US and Europe, as it spreads rapidly through rhizomes by creating thick colonies, requiring effective removal.

Therefore, growing them will require controlling their spread at the same time. Sounds confusing?

Continue reading to find out ways to grow or remove invasive Chameleon plants.

Does Chameleon Plant Stink?

Did you know the Chameleon plant references the plant’s colorful nature, but the actual animal?

The Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) is a herbaceous perennial shrub native to most parts of Asia.

Known for its antibacterial effect and other medicinal benefits like anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, antiviral, depurative, diuretic, dysentery, etc., it boasts a long history of traditional medicine.

Despite its many uses, the plant is known for its stinky smell and invasive tendencies.

Chameleon plant invasive spread
Chameleon plant, when grown outside their natural habitat, will become invasive.

When you crush or bruise the leaves, they release a pungent scent that resembles a citrus smell, often described as fishy.

This characteristic odor is more pronounced in certain varieties or when the plant grows in sunny and humid conditions.

Therefore, there is no escaping the smell, but you can certainly do something about its invasive behavior.

How Does Chameleon Plant Harm the Companion Plants?

The Chameleon plant has become a significant concern in many regions outside its native range, including the United States and parts of Europe.

Although the plant has been naturalized in USDA zones 5-9, it might escape the unbordered garden and spread rapidly through rhizomes, forming dense colonies.

What’s concerning is that it can spread rapidly in a single season, gaining a height of 9 inches and a width of 16 inches because of its ability to thrive in any climate and soil condition.

While it primarily spreads through rhizomes, it also produces seeds that can be dispersed by wind, water, animals, or human activities, facilitating its spread to new locations.

Besides growth habits, there can be many reasons, including the hardy nature, for the Chameleon plant to grow as invasive.  

Therefore, it can smother native vegetation, even affecting garden-grown vegetables and flowers by diminishing their roots’ spread.

How to Remove Invasive Chameleon Plant?

If these reptilian plants has invaded your garden, consider removing them promptly to save other plants.

However, removing Chameleon plants would be difficult and may require multiple methods.

1. Manual Removal

For a small colony, manually pull out the plants with the roots and rhizomes. Remember to wear protective gloves.

Carefully dig into the soil to locate and remove the underground rhizomes.

Chameleon plant roots
When removing the invasive Chameleon plant, uproot its roots (rhizome).

Even small fragments left behind can regenerate, so thorough removal is essential.

2. Smothering Method

Cover the affected area with heavy mulch or a thick layer of cardboard to prevent sunlight from reaching the plant.

Although it would not kill the plant, it would abruptly stop its spread.

Chemical Control: If manual removal and smothering methods are insufficient, you may consider using herbicides as a last resort.

3. Using Herbicide

Will applying Vinegar Kill the Chameleon Plant?

Yes, regular vinegar can be used as a natural herbicide to control the invasive growth of the Chameleon plant.

Here is how to use vinegar.

  • Use white vinegar with a higher acetic acid concentration, preferably 10-20%.
  • Mix the vinegar with water to dilute it in a 1:1 ratio.
  • Using a spray bottle, thoroughly coat the Chameleon plant foliage, including the leaves and stems.

The acetic acid in vinegar can damage and kill plant tissues, but it may not be effective against well-established Chameleon colonies.

Using Herbicides to Damage Colonies

Use proven herbicides like glyphosate, imazapyr, and triclopyr to diminish the Chameleon colony effectively.

  • Safety precautions: Before handling the chemical, wear protective clothing, gloves, goggles, and a mask.
  • Dilution: Determine the appropriate concentration of glyphosate for your target plant and application method, usually 2½ fl. oz. (5 tbs.) per gallon of water.
  • Application: Spray the solution directly onto the Chameleon plant, ensuring complete coverage.
  • Timing: Apply it in spring or summer when the Chameleon plant is actively growing to eliminate the spreading roots effectively.
  • Post-application: Allow the herbicide to penetrate the plant for a few days before uprooting them.

What is Chameleon Plant Good For?

The Chameleon plant offers several potential benefits, both in its ornamental value and traditional medicinal uses.

Though invasive Chameleon plant, here are a few benefits of the Chameleon plant.

  1. Medicinal benefits: The Chameleon plant boasts many therapeutic benefits, including using the extracts in treating SARS virus symptoms, treating allergies and inflammation, controlling blood sugar levels, and more.
  2. Ornamental Beauty: Its attractive foliage with heart-shaped leaves in various shades (green, red, yellow, and variegated patterns) offers vibrant colors to gardens or containers.
  3. Ground Cover: The Chameleon plant serves as a ground cover plant in bare or empty spaces, but beware of control methods to prevent its invasive spread.
  4. Erosion Control: As a ground cover plant, it can naturally prevent soil erosion and boost moisture levels in the soil.
  5. Culinary Use: In specific cuisines, the leaves of the Chameleon plant are used as a culinary herb, adding a distinctive flavor to dishes. A north-east Indian salad Singju also utilizes fresh Chameleon plants as a condiment.
  6. Traditional Herbal Remedy: In traditional Chinese medicine, the Chameleon plant has been utilized to address respiratory ailments, digestive issues, and urinary tract disorders.
  7. Ecological Value: In its native habitat, the Chameleon plant can contribute to biodiversity by providing habitat and food sources for certain insects and wildlife.

How to Grow Chameleon Plant?

Now that you know the severe effects of nurturing invasive Chameleon plants without taking appropriate measures, let us look at a few practical ways to grow them.

  • Obtain appropriate species, such as Houttuynia cordata ‘Tricolor,’ from a reputable nursery or online source.
  • It prefers full sun to thrive, at least 6 hours, but can tolerate a wide range of light conditions.
  • Ensure well-draining soil rich in organic matter, such as compost or organic fertilizer.
  • Plant the seeds or cut them in early spring to witness healthy blooms in summer, along with beautiful flowers.
  • Dig a hole narrowly larger than the root ball of the Chameleon plant. Place the plant in the hole, backfill it with soil, and gently firm it around the roots.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist but waterlogged. Chameleon plants prefer humid conditions, watered once or twice a week.
  • Apply a layer of mulch around the Chameleon plant base to help retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth.
  • Remove any unwanted growth and provide adequate spacing between plants to prevent overcrowding.
Chameleon plant tea
Add dried Chameleon plant leaves to a glass of warm water to create an instant healthy tea.
  • Propagation: Propagate in spring or summer through division or stem cuttings. Divide mature plants every few years to maintain their vigor.

How to Control Chameleon Plant?

If you want to grow the Chameleon plant while managing its invasive tendencies, here are some steps to control its spread.

  1. Container Cultivation: Grow your plant in containers or pots rather than directly in the ground to help contain its growth.
  2. Root Barrier: Alternatively, create a barrier around the planting area to prevent the rhizomes from spreading beyond the designated space, using thick plastic or metal barriers that extend at least 1 to 2 feet below the soil surface.
  3. Regular Maintenance: Trim back the plant regularly to control its size and prevent it from flowering and producing seeds in summer.
  4. Local Regulations: In some regions, the plant may be considered invasive. Check with local agricultural or environmental authorities to ensure that its cultivation may be prohibited or restricted.

From Editorial Team


It is important to note that the Chameleon plant’s invasive nature can outweigh the positive aspects.

Managing invasive species like the Chameleon plant may require long-term efforts and repeated control measures.

By following the practices mentioned above, you can enjoy the attractive foliage of the Chameleon plant while minimizing its invasive spread.