34 Cortaderia selloanaCommon Names: pampas grass Family: Poaceae (grass Family)
Impressive size, graceful aspect, durable toughness, and spectacular flowers all combine to make pampas grass one of the most recognized plants in the landscape. The leaves are narrow, 1/2 to 3/4 in (1.3-1.9 cm) wide, and up to 10 ft (3 m) long. They are arranged in dense fountain-like clumps that are up to 12 ft (3.7 m) high and 6 ft (1.8 m) wide. The real show starts in midsummer when the flowers, spectacular 1 ft (0.3 m) tall white plumes, suddenly erupt above the foliage. The show continues well into winter as the feathery plumes persist and the foliage turns golden brown when touched by frost and cold weather (see photo below). When using the species you'll probably want to select female plants as they have prettier flowers - the males' are thinner, more elongated and not as full. This garden beauty commands attention wherever it is used.
Many varieties of pampas grass are available for use in the landscape. There are dwarf varieties (C. selloana 'Pumila') that are perfect for smaller spaces. Others have pastel colored flowers, while others provide an assortment of leaf variegations ('Silver Stripe', 'Gold Band').
Pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, is native to the South American countries of Chile, Brazil and Argentina. This grass acquired its common name from that of Argentina's grasslands which are called the pampas. This grand green goliath is grown around the world and just might be the most popular of all ornamental grass species.
CultureLike many plants, pampas grass prefers fertile well-drained loamy soils. It is a survivor however, and will tolerate everything from poor, dry, sandy soils to heavy, damp clays. It will even tolerate flooding and wet soils if not persistent. Expect slow growth and scraggly looks when grown under extreme conditions. Light: Give pampas grass full sun. Will also grow in light shade. Moisture: Provide occasional water during times of drought to keep plant looking good. Very drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Some cultivars are hardier and extend the range northward. Propagation: By division (which is a huge chore!)in spring or fall Seed is occasionally available for the species but the selected varieties must be propagated by division to preserve their unique characteristics.
Pampas grass has long been a popular lawn highlight in the south where it looks great alone or arranged in groups of several clumps. Because it is inexpensive and fast growing it also makes a great screen for hiding unsightly views. Pampas grass is armed with razor sharp leaves. Planted in a hedge, it makes a formidable barrier. It looks great used with palms, pines and other grasses. The flowers become even more dramatic when grown in front of dark backgrounds, such as juniper trees, Leyland cypress or podocarpus.
Tough, beautiful and inexpensive, pampas grass has everything going for it. A plant can be purchased for a few dollars at a garden center, stuck in the ground, given minimal care, and within a year or two it will be transformed into a striking specimen. For dried arrangements there is nothing better than the beautiful plumes of pampas grass. Cut the plumes as soon as possible after they blossom for more durable dried specimens.
Dried plumes, dyed flamboyant colors and often sprinkled with glitter, can be purchased at better discount and souvenir stores throughout the country - especially in areas frequented by tourists. Always in good taste, these can be used fearlessly in even the most sophisticated interior designs. So versatile are these prodigious plumes that no matter what color you select rest assured they will combine effectively with pink flamingos, Elvis-on-black-velvet art and lava lamps.
Due to the sharp leaf edges do not use pampas grass near walkways, swimming pools, benches, play areas, etc. Even light brushes with the leaves can result in cuts that have a tendency to become inflamed - wash immediately and apply antibiotic salve.
Pampa grass is highly invasive in certain dry frost free climates like California where it invades natural habitats and displaces native species. In these environments pampas grass must not be planted and existing plants removed if possible. Also beware of related species sometimes sold as "purple pampas grass" (C. jubata) which is also invasive.
Jack Scheper 10/3/98; updated 11/27/99, 8/24/01, 8/30/01, 6/3/03, 8/26/05