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A Floridata Plant Profile #1157 Houttuynia cordata
Common Names: houttuynia, chameleon plant, Dokudami
Family: Saururaceae (houttuynia Family)
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Perennial  For Wet, Boggy Areas Edible Plant Has Medicinal Uses Provides Autumn Color Flowers Fragrant
chameleon plant
This is the 'Chameleon' (also known as 'Tricolor') houttuynia cultivar with it's showy pink and cream marked foliage.
chameleon plant
Houttuynia blooms in late spring or early summer producing a column of tiny flowers surrounded by four white bracts.

Description
Houttuynia (hoo-TIE-nee-a) is a ground hugging herbaceous perennial with rhizomes that spread rapidly to create a living blanket of grayish green leaves with red margins. The plant reaches only about a foot (30 cm) in height but its spread is indeterminate. Houttuynia dies back in winter, returning in spring with new reddish brown shoots that soon produce the 2-3 in (5-8 cm) heart shaped leaves. The leaves have five palmate veins and give off a peculiar citrusy-fishy scent when bruised that some people find offensive. In summer, houttuynia produces stout 1.3 in (3 cm) spikes crowded with many tiny yellowish green flowers. The flower spikes are surrounded at their bases by 4-6 white petal-like bracts, about a half inch (1.25 cm) long.

The most common cultivar available is 'Chameleon' (also known as 'Tricolor') which has leaves splashed with red, pink and creamy yellow. Unfortunately it sometimes reverts to the green and red-bordered leaves typical of the species. 'Flore Pleno' has eight or more pure white bracts surrounding its flower spikes.

Location
Houttuynia cordata grows naturally in partly shady sites with moist soils in China, Japan and higher elevations in Southeast Asia.

Culture
Houttuynia plants should be divided every two or three years.
Light: Grow houttuynia in full sun to dappled shade. For the full effect of the variegated cultivars, grow in full sun. Some shade is desirable in hotter climates.
Moisture: Houttuynia is a wetland plant that likes to keep its feet near the water. It needs a moist soil, and can be grown at the water’s edge, or even in 3-4 in (7-10 cm) of water. Houttuynia is less vigorous on drier sites. Don’t let the soil dry out completely between waterings.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-11. Where marginally hardy, mulch houttuynia in the winter to protect its roots.
Propagation: Divide rhizomes or root softwood cuttings to propagate.

chameleon plant
Houttuynia is most often planted as a ground cover as shown here at this condominium complex. Regular lawn mowings around the edges keep it in bounds.

Usage
Houttuynia is used as a ground cover mainly for its colorful foliage. It needs a damp soil and looks good in a herbaceous border or along a woodland path or along a stream. Houttuynia is often planted at the edge of a pond, or even in shallow water, sometimes in a container to control its spread. Because of its aggressive spreading tendencies, houttuynia is a good choice if you want a dense ground cover within a confined space that is surrounded by an impermeable barrier such as a concrete wall.

Houttuynia is used as a ground cover mainly for its colorful foliage. It needs a damp soil and looks good in a herbaceous border or along a woodland path or along a stream. Houttuynia is often planted at the edge of a pond, or even in shallow water, sometimes in a container to control its spread. Because of its aggressive spreading tendencies, houttuynia is a good choice if you want a dense ground cover within a confined space that is surrounded by an impermeable barrier such as a concrete wall.

Features
Houttuynia is used medicinally in Asia, especially in Vietnam, Japan and in China, where it has been prescribed for many centuries and known as “fishy smell herb”. The beneficial effects of houttuynia are only recently becoming known to Westerners. Extracts and teas made from the plant are said to block the body’s histamine production, thus lessening the effects of allergies and asthma. It is thought to scavenge toxic free radicals in the body, and to kill many kinds of bacteria, especially those that cause acne and ear aches. Houttuynia is believed to reduce inflammation and to boost the body’s immune system. It is sold in Asian markets around the world as a food and a medicinal herb.

Houttuynia cordata is one of only two species in the genus.

Steve Christman 7/15/12




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