Bad luck to say "Thanks" for a plant

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Chameleon (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon') should be the poster child for Run Amuck perennials. It's fooled so many gardeners. We say: Yes, it's pretty, but if someone offers you a start, don't put it in your garden. Put it in a pot in a pond and maybe -- just maybe -- it won't get loose and you can continue to think well of the giver. 

It's bad luck to say 'Thank you' for a plant.
Better to say, 'I'll think of you when I see it.'


One proof of this is in the invasive nature of some perennials. These are plants that make so much of themselves, so quickly that they are the type most often given away.

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Run-amuck perennials

Beware these gifts. Quarantine gift plants!

Perennials to avoid

Why invasive perennials become gifts, why they're sold. Experts' explanations.

Eradicating an invasive plant: Weeding out running perennials

You can add runners to our list; regarding spreaders by seed


Caution and quarantine are in order

Gardeners are probably the most generous people in the world, so it's more the shame that their gift plants sometimes go very wrong. So wrong that the common lore is, "It's bad luck to say thanks for a plant."

Some plants spread underground so quickly that the term "running root" acquires new depth -- pun intended. Others are not so fast or deep but still difficult to restrain. Some compound their wandering with deviousness, such as owning roots both good at regenerating and thin enough or so well camouflaged that they defy even the most fastidious eradication effort.

These are not weeds -- their appearance put them on our shopping list. Combine the gardener's quest for beauty and the behavior of these plants and you arrive at our recommended strategy: Quarantine gift plants.

Perennials to avoid if "invasive" is not your bag

The plants on our list are in alpha order by common name, since the scientific name rarely accompanies a plant passed over the fence or at a plant swap. That makes the list longer since some plants have multiple common names. We've cross referenced less common to more common names. Count the scientific names for the real total: 60 on this list.

Asterisks following the plant name indicate degree of invasiveness -- more asterisks, more trouble.

"Just wait!" following the plant name indicates species that may not run immediately.

"Bulb/corm" following the plant name means that not only roots but a storage organ must be removed. Sometimes the roots break easily from the bulb or corm and gardeners do not even realize they have not removed it all.

Ajuga (A. repens)
Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver Queen'
bamboo (see yellow groove bamboo, see dwarf bamboo, see Mexican bamboo)
barren strawberry (Waldsteinia ternata)
bee balm (Monarda species)
bell towers (Campanula rapunculoides)*
bergamot (see bee balm)
birthwort  (Aristolochia clematitis)**
bishop's weed (Aegopodium podagraria and A. p. 'Variegatum')**
blackeye Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm')*
bloodred geranium (Geranium sanguineum)*
blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius, Leymus arenarius)**
blue mist  flower (see perennial ageratum)
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis: also other running goldenrod species)*
canary reed grass (see ribbon grass)
Carolina lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana) Just wait!
chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon')*** Photos below.

HouttyniaRootFlN9752s.jpg HouttuyniaNRootN6926s.jpg
Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi)***
creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)***
creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia and L. n. 'Aurea')
ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva)**
dogtooth violet (see trout lily)
dwarf bamboo (Sasa pygmaea)**
false dragonshead (see obedient plant)
fawn lily (see trout lily)
field milkweed (see milkweed)
field poppy (Papaver perennial species)
fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata)
gardener's garters (see ribbon grass)
garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) bulb/corm
golden coins (see creeping Jenny)
gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides)*
goutweed (see bishop's weed)
grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) bulb/corm
Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida) Just wait
Japanese knotweed, dwarf knotweed (see Mexican bamboo)***
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)* Just wait
Lemon Queen perennial sunflower (see Jerusalem artichoke; hybrid of)
lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)**
lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
manna grass (Glyceria maxima)
Mexican bamboo (Polygonum cuspidatum, also Reynoutria japonica)***
milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)***
monkey grass (see lilyturf)
muskingum sedge (Carex muskingumensis)
myrtle (Vinca minor)**
obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)
orange wild daylilies (see ditch lily)
oregano (Origanum marjorana)
ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris)*
Pachysandra (P. terminalis)
peachleaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia) Just wait
perennial ageratum (Conoclinum caerulea)
pink day primrose (see showy primrose)
Pink Panda strawberry (Fragaria 'Pink Panda')*
purple leaf fringed loosestrife ( Lysimachia ciliata 'Purpurea')
queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra)
ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea 'Picta')*
sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)*
showy primrose (Oenethera speciosa)***
snow on the mountain (see bishop's weed)
spearmint (Mentha spicata)
speckled adder (see trout lily)
spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
squill (Scilla sibirica) bulb/corm
star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) bulb/corm
trout lily (Erythronium canadensis) bulb/corm
trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)***
violets (Viola sororia, V. papilionacea)
windflower (See woodland anemone)
(Wisteria species) Just wait.
woodland anemone (Anemone sylvestris & A. canadensis)*
wormwood, variegated wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris 'Oriental Limelight')*
yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata)**
yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdelon)**
yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus)
yellow loosestrife, variegated yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)**

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Why the bad plant becomes a gift

How does it happen that a plant esteemed by Gardener A becomes Gardener B's worst nightmare? We've spent a lot of time thinking about it -- it passes the time when we do tedious work such as digging out invasive plants!

  • They're pretty, or native, attract wildlife or fulfill another purpose.
  • Sometimes a plant is shared early, before its invasiveness  becomes apparent.
  • Some people are surprisingly tolerant of bad behavior.
  • Invasive plants often make good groundcover.
  • Large properties often need aggressive, colonizing plants.
  • Plants can be invasive in one environment, restrained in another.


Some plants are real demons, but are so pretty there's a lot of demand for them. We growers have to carry them. So we sell them with a warning!

- Karen Bovio -


Invasive? Sure, it can be. We told you that. But isn't it otherwise all that you asked for?

- Janet -


When I had a small yard I had to be so careful of what I let loose in there. I tell people if someone offers you a perennial, ask them 'Why?" If they say 'because I have so much of it,' well there you go, there's your warning!

- Deb Hall -

Expand our list

Is there a perennial that comes to people as a gift which should be on this list, but isn't here? Send us an email to We'll amend our list.

Please note: There is another category of perennials initially invited that become pests: Those that spread by seed. We'll make a separate list of those.


Weeding out running perennials

Weeding out plants with running roots? To oust, evict, remove, eradicate an invasive perennial, groundcover or suckering shrub:

It's the same as any weed war. Observe the plant's method of multiplying, then be persistent.

Click here for our all-plant method.

We have previously posted some specific words of advice regarding the eviction of:

star of Bethlehem in What's Coming Up 34, page 8

chameleon Houttuynia in What's Coming Up 143, page 5







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