Botanical name: Houttuynia cordata Chameleon
Family: Saururaceae (Lizard's-tail)
Display period: Summerlong
Height: 6 to 9 inches
Ignorance sometimes pays off in gardening. Had I known the full story of houttuynia, I would probably have resisted buying the plant despite the allure of its gorgeous picture in a nursery catalog. I would thus have missed the untold pleasure the plant has brought me in a pot on my terrace.
In open ground, houttuynia advances with the aggressiveness of bamboo. So rampant are its underground stolons that even pavements don't halt their spread. The only way to restrain the plant in the garden is to barricade it with high walls deeply entrenched. A pot is the ultimate straitjacket and, incidentally, the best way to grow the plant.
Steven M. Still, executive director of the Perennial Plant Association and a professor of horticulture at Ohio State University, says he grows houttuynia at home in fairly heavy clay loam and that tends to keep the plant "from moving around too much."
Houttuynia was named for Martin Houttuyn, an 18th-century Dutch naturalist.
The variety Chameleon was named and introduced in the mid-1970s by Barry R. Yinger, a collector specializing in Asian plants, who found it in a nursery in Japan. The name denotes the beautiful variegation of the plant's Joseph's coat of cream, strawberry-red, green and yellow foliage. The red pigments show up best when the plant stands in full sun. There are blossoms, too, each composed of five white petals surrounding erect chartreuse conelike protrusions. Though they're too small to be called the main attraction, the sprinkling of them above the heart-shaped leaves endows the plant with a sense of grace and refinement.