Removal of “Fish Mint” Houttuynia cordata

(Question)

My mother has planted, in the back yard,  “Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon'”, I think is the name. It’s also called Fish Mint, but please refer to the image to clarify. It is a spade-shaped leafed mint, which is invading all of our soil. However the roots run VERY deep, so its stubborn to pull out. Even when I try to pull it out, its usually not the entire plant, but just a part.  I know there’s quite a bit of the roots still remaining in the soil. Could I plant this in a large container? Any suggestions ?

 

(Answer)

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ is a rhizomatous perennial, that  grows easily in moist or wet soils, in full sun to part shade… AND as you have discovered, is a rigorous spreader.  Houttuynia is an example of a plant that normally develops adventitious buds on their roots, which can extend quite a distance from the plant. Shoots that develop from adventitious buds on roots are termed suckers. ‘Chameleon’ (synonymous with ‘variegated’ ) refers to green leaves with shades of red, pink, yellow or cream on red stems. Native to south-east Asia, southwestern China and northeastern India, this plant is popular as an herbal garnish in soups or salads. Houttuynia is also known as Dokudami, which translates from Chinese as ‘fishy-smell herb’, but not at all ‘minty”. If anything, the name ‘mint’ is a nod to their single-minded determination to spread.

It’s possible that your mother did not intend to cultivate it as a full ground cover. From weed-pulling experience, my instinct would be to thoroughly water-soak the area first, to help loosen and remove as many of the rhizomes, and suckers, as possible. Employ a spade or garden fork, and lots of elbow-grease. One of your options could be to take the middle ground, by isolating a portion with a soil barrier, or, as you mentioned, transplant a healthy selection to a container handy for cooking. In natural ponds, Houttuynia plants are often grown in containers sunk into the mud, to maintain control over root spread. But on the bright side, fresh herbs, including your  ‘fish mint’, are essential to Vietnamese cuisine: their flavors and perfumes enliven countless foods.  Bon appétit !

For more information: www.missouribotanicalgarden.org