Houttynia cordata

chameleon plant, plante caméléon, chinesischer Eidechsenschwanz, lus chameleon

After hearing the salesperson in a Sussex nursery talk about an orange-scented plant yonks ago, mater et filius, aka the two family plant-freaks, waited for the customers in front to put it down before we sniffed and bought. The Vietnamese say this plant smells of fish, but all I can smell is Nell Gwyn’s hands after a packed-out sitting in Drury Lane.

houttynia1As it survives English winters, South Australian summers and everything the tropics has to offer, I’d say it’s pretty easy to grow and tolerant of most climates.

I recently saw this plant mentioned on a website about traditional carpet dyes (and can’t for the life of me find where I bookmarked it), and so pulled up several handfulls – it’s had a good year – and filled up another dye pot.

I usually add the leaves to Vietnamese-style cold rolls and salads, so was eager to find out just how good a dye it is. As it was simmering, there was the aroma of Nell Gwyn’s hhouttyniaands in the laundry room, but nothing overpowering.

And the findings? Alum/CoT mordant definitely required, and an alkaline modifier brings out the full colour. In real life, the skein on the far right is more of a turmeric colour, full and rich. I’m eager to test this one for light- and wash-fastness.


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