It seems fitting to write about our hootenanny woes on Friday the 13. I’m not talking about a lively party involving folk music and dancing. No, I’m talking about a certain ground cover, actually called houttuynia cordata. It is a traditional Chinese/Japanese plant whose name roughly translates to “smelly fish.” That a good name, because it does emit a powerful and nasty smell.
When we purchased it over 12 years ago, we wanted some nice looking ground cover for a courtyard we were creating. The people at the nursery told us it was a good ground cover, that reaches about two feet high and has a lovely little white flower for a few weeks each spring. They failed to mention that it was invasive. VERY invasive.
So each year after planting it in one corner of our new courtyard, we fought to keep it from overpowering the boxwoods, the fountain grass, and the sedum plants. We fought valiantly and always lost. A half dozen years later, it had traveled under the concrete steps and reached a second garden bed. There, it overtook another set of four boxwoods, some day lilies, some black-eyed Susans, and a few miscellaneous flowering plants. Two years ago, it started growing between the stones in our flagstone path, and between the stones on the staircase leading to our basement door.
I had begun to loathe the plants several years ago. Each spring I hauled away a couple of wheelbarrow loads of it, but it continued to thrive. I decided to kill it off. I used dishwashing liquid. I used salt. I used straight vinegar. The plants would turn brown for a few days, then pop up green as ever.
This year it reached a third flower bed, filled with lovely roses. My husband took up my cause, and spent an entire day digging out two of the three beds it had made home. He also dug around most of the stones in the path. The next day, we worked another four hours, sifting through each area to pull out every bit of root we could find. We banished seven full wheelbarrow loads into a small ravine on our property.
That night, my husband did a little research on the internet. I heard him exclaim, “oh no, we did the wrong thing.” Apparently, hootenanny can’t be killed. It was the first plant to return in Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped. Houttuynia cordata and cockroaches can withstand nuclear force. Experts said that dumping it would allow it to spread, so we need to burn it.
So we retrieved the seven wheelbarrow loads of plant roots and burned them. Then we resifted the areas we had cleaned out and used a chemical that we have shunned for 12 years. The experts say that if we do this process several times a week each spring for a year or two, we might get rid of the stuff. No, there’s no folk dancing at our house this week!
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Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.