In the early 1870s, an enterprising nurseryman in Southern California imported a tall, clumping grass with distinctive feathery plumes to his ranch. Over the next several decades, he created an entire industry for the plumes of the plant called pampas grass.
At the height of the plume boom, he was exporting 500,000 plumes a year throughout the United States and Europe, influencing Victorian-era fashion. By the close of the 19th century, pampas plumes were dyed different colors to fill vases, decorate women’s hats and cover parade floats. Eventually the trend ended, but pampas has been used in landscaping ever since.
This invasive grass is anything but fashionable. Now, rather than topping hats and decorating parade floats, the 10-foot-tall feathery plumes top clumps of razor-sharp leaves throughout California. Pampas grass blocks beach access, fuels wildfires and invades native ecosystems. Introduced to Maui in the 1920s, pampas has proved invasive here as well.
Hawaii has two so-called “pampas grass” species: Cortaderia selloana and Cortaderia jubata. Both species of pampas grass have been planted widely in landscaping throughout California, where every backyard population is now a seed source for this invasive plant. Both species also are found on Maui, and jubata has become extremely invasive.