Toe toe the line on pampas


By Clare Jackson and Tim Newton

Here in our fertile lush region everything grows like a weed, including the weeds.

As you would expect in a warm temperate part of the world, we have a huge variety of pest plants.

There are the classic creepers and stranglers like jasmine, honeysuckle and convolvulus that choke the plants that we’re trying to grow, and the dreaded privet trees with their ghastly flowers making us ill, and even an army of weeds that specialise in destroying our wetlands, including yellow flag iris, arum lilies and reed sweet grass.

Dealing with pest plants is all in a day’s work for us, so you might be surprised to hear that many weed species are not at all difficult to control, if the right methods are used.

Based on our experience there are a good number of weed species around the Waikato which everyone should be able to get on top of.

High on our hit list is pampas grass (Cortaderia sellowania and C. jubata) a highly visible invasive weed which we still, as a community, have the opportunity to control and even eradicate.

It’s unfortunate that over in Raglan pampas has become such a part of the landscape that the pest plants even appear in paintings and postcards while sadly the closely related and infinitely more user-friendly native toe toe (Austroderia toetoe, A. fulvida and A. splendens) is seldom seen.

Native toetoe flower head (left) compared to the exotic pampas grass flower head (right).

Confused about toe toe and pampas? First, look at the flower heads. Both species have pale fluffy flower and seed heads, but those of pampas are thicker, taller and point straight up like feather dusters, in contrast to the smaller, paler and delicately arching toe toe flower heads which drape downwards.

Toe toe flowers in early summer, pampas from mid-summer to autumn. Pampas leaves are generally cuttier and break when pulled. Of the two, pampas spreads aggressively, grows much larger and harbours rats’ and wasps’ nests.

Toe toe on the other hand is a well-behaved graceful landscape plant highly valued in weaving and healing arts. It is also a haven for native lizards and home to the aptly named toetoe leafhopper, found nowhere else in the world.

Landcare research has an excellent guide to distinguishing toe toe from pampas.

There’s an extra challenge when a weed is closely related to a native plant but let’s not use that as an excuse to allow an insidious invasion of pampas grass to colonise our landscapes and displace our native heritage.

Pampas grass is actually very easy to get rid of. Like all grasses, great and small, pampas tends to keel over at the whiff of a glyphosate spray.

We have great success in our restoration and landscaping work with organic techniques, such as planting an infested area with taller growing natives to eventually shade out the pampas, or by mowing the pampas with a scrub bar to prevent flowering, which ultimately results in the weed’s demise. Small plants are easily knocked over with boot or spade, and seldom regrow. Snap off and remove seed heads wherever you can to help prevent pampas spreading.

Follow up by planting some pretty toe toe (available from your local ecosourced nursery) and you’ll have a real kiwi postcard in no time!

*Landscapers and plant scientists Clare Jackson and Tim Newton, of GreenFootprint, have 30 years experience designing and building beautiful, sustainable landscapes, and working in gully restoration and tree care.

If you’d like help with any aspect of your gully, trees or garden, they welcome your inquiry. Contact Tim, phone 021 103 5755; email

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