Is it pampas or toetoe?

Pampas flowers are upright, fluffy, and white or purple.

Those fluffy fronds on the side of the road may look pretty, but they are actually weeds.

Words: Gary Bosley 

Why it’s a weed: Invades hill country, roadsides, and drains, competes with desirable grazing species

Where it’s found: Throughout NZ, mostly in marginal areas – the purple pampas variety is more common in the North Island

Is it toxic? No

Other uses: For decoration, often used in outdoor weddings

Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) was introduced to New Zealand in the 1920s. It was planted for animal shelter and even fed to cattle in the 1950s. In the 1930s, purple pampas (Cortaderia jubata) was brought here as a garden plant.

The problem with pampas grasses is how quickly they spread, smothering vast areas of pasture.

In general pampas flowers after Christmas, from January to June.

They love to grow in disturbed areas: beside roadsides, broken soil, slips, and sparse areas of hill country. New forestry plantations and sensitive nature reserves are particularly at risk.

Pampas are perennial tussock plants that produce hairy, wind-borne seeds each year and spread quickly if left unmanaged.


Avoid buying hay from farms with pampas.

Maintain soil fertility so pasture species can out-compete any seeds that blow in.

Running a large mob of stock over pasture containing small pampas can prevent them from becoming established.

Spot spray with glyphosate.

If you pull small plants out, turn them upside down, hang them from a fence, or bag them, otherwise they can re-root.


Toetoe flowers are droopy and light gold.

Both types of pampas are frequently confused with native toetoe. The key differences are:

1. Generally, pampas clumps are much larger and more robust with larger flower heads;

2. Pampas leaves snap readily when given a sharp tug; toetoe leaves do not;

3. Old dry leaves at the base of the pampas tussock are rolled; toetoe are not;

4. Toetoe flowers from September-January; pampas flowers from January-June;

5. Toetoe flowers are droopy and light gold. Pampas flowers are upright, fluffy, and white or purple

Read more about the differences here.


This Auckland hero has weeded every day for 30 years — without glory or gain

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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