What is Pampas Grass?

Mary McMahon

Pampas grass is a grass native to South America. This grass is famous for growing to incredible heights under cultivation, and it produces distinctive tall stalks of silky flowers in the summer which have led some people to plant it as an ornamental. Thanks to the demand for ornamental pampas grass, a number of cultivars have been bred to display specific traits, including dwarf cultivars and versions which produce distinctively colored flowers.

Pampas grass grows quickly.
Pampas grass grows quickly.

This plant is more formally known as Cortaderia selloana, and it is abundant in the plains regions known as the pampas in nations like Argentina. Pampas grass grows in dense tussocks, putting out long, blade-like leaves with serrated edges. These leaves can grow to be as much as six feet (two meters) long, and the tussock itself can top 10 feet (roughly three meters) in height, making pampas grass a formidable feature on the landscape.

In its natural environment, pampas grass provides shelter to a wide range of mammals and birds. When the flowers mature into seeds, the fine silky threads can be borne on the wind for miles, ensuring that the plant is well-seeded, and the plants are adapted to a wide variety of conditions, including extreme heat and cold. Pampas grass will also endure through flooding and fires.

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As an ornamental, pampas grass has some distinct advantages. It grows quickly, which can be useful in immature landscaping, and it requires little to no work once it is established, which can appeal to some gardeners. However, pampas grass can also take over the garden very rapidly, and it will freely seed itself across the neighborhood as well, to the dismay of neighbors who might not be interested in growing pampas grass.

In some areas, the grass is classified as an invasive species, because it has a tendency to choke out native plants, and it can become very unsightly. Especially in areas heavily trafficked by people, pampas grass is also a nuisance, because the serrated blades can be extremely painful to encounter. The grass is also difficult to eradicate; it is necessary to remove the entirety of a tussock, including the roots, and techniques like burning will not stop the plant from coming back. As a result, people are encouraged to think carefully before introducing pampas, and to pull up pampas starts which have volunteered themselves in the yard promptly, before they have a chance to grow.

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Discussion Comments


@Grivusangel -- Thanks for the post. I was thinking about planting pampas grass in the spring, but I don't think I will, since it's so hard to get rid of.

I already have to keep the mimosa seedlings at bay from our neighbor's mimosa tree, and that's problematic enough. I don't mind mimosas in general, but they can be invasive, too. They can be devilishly hard to get rid of when you start trying to pull them up. It's nearly impossible to kill them.

So I think I'll pass on the pampas grass. It sounds like a lot of trouble and maybe a lot of expense.


Pampas looks nice, but it will take the place, for sure. It's nearly as bad as kudzu, and kudzu is the worst.

I knew a family who started out with it as just a little clump on either side of the mailbox, and then ended up having to plow up half the yard to get rid of it. Their kids were getting cut on those sharp leaves, and they were afraid the neighbor kids would be injured, too. So they started pulling it up and they had to turn up a lot of yard to get all the tussocks up. It was a huge mess and the woman told me she wished she had never seen the stuff. I don't blame her at all.

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