Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Real Devil's Ivy

Yesterday I wrote about the golden pothos plant I have had for 35 years.
The plant is often called devil's ivy, but I concluded that is a misnomer
in light of another plant growing around my house that has truly evil-loving ways.
I am speaking of houttuynia cordata--commonly called chameleon plant.
Here it is growing out of some moss in a shady spot:
I don't wish to insult our Asian friends who find this plant both delicious and fragrant,
or to deter the insects that enjoy devouring its leaves,
but this plant is a stinker when it overtakes a garden.
Not content to be a good neighbor,
 it surreptitiously sets about eradicating every plant it embraces.

I came by this little monster innocently enough.
After my husband's mother passed, I collected plants from her place
and brought them home as a way of keeping her memory close.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned the redbud seedlings that grew into beautiful trees,
but I did not reveal that the plants which had glittered for me
that June day did not all turn out to be gold.

I had admired the little chameleon plant
she had growing under the sweet gum  tree in her front lawn;
Its leaves were splashed with deep red, pink, ivory, lemon, and green.
I scooped it up and planted it in a front bed at my house one very dry summer.
It didn't grow.
I planted it in the back, around the deck.
It didn't grow.
I planted it along one side of our house.
It didn't grow there,
so I planted it in a bed on the other side of our house.
It didn't grow there either.

Then came a rainy year and the ground was often soaked and wet.
It grew.
And it grew.
And it grew some more.
It grew and grew and spread and spread.
It spread out of the bed and into the lawn.
It covered everything in its path.
I cut it down,
it only laughed at me and emitted a pungent and sickening odor.
I dug it up.
It came back.
I spent one entire summer digging out thousands of its roots and sifting the dirt.
Regardless, it came back as strong as ever
because even a sliver of root the size of an ant will proliferate.

I realized if force didn't work on it, I was going to have to outsmart it.
It was kind of my Devil and Daniel Webster moment.
It was time to trick the trickster.
 I studied this obnoxious pest and learned it likes wet, acidic soil.
So I bought some garden lime and proceeded to make the soil less welcoming.
That, and I smothered it with landscape fabric.
It worked pretty well.
Occasionally a persistent leaf will pop up for air,
but we paint it with a noxious substance and it sinks back into the underworld.
The chameleon plant would be so beautiful if it would only remain contained.
But it is far too cunning to settle for that.
An old saying admonishes people to be wary of "sharp teeth behind pretty smiles."
They must have been talking about the chameleon plant.

No comments: