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Published: 2004-04-22 00:00:00

The fluffy plumes of pampas plants will eventually become a rare sight on the Coromandel as Environment Waikato begins controls on the invasive plant pest from July 1.

Pampas is a serious threat to natural ecosystems in the Coromandel, such as sand dunes, stream banks, wetlands and coastal cliffs where it can completely replace native vegetation. There is a ban on its sale and propagation. From July 1 it becomes a “total control” plant pest in the northern Coromandel – meaning it must be destroyed wherever it occurs.

Biosecurity Operations Manager Peter Russell said pampas was a successful 'colonising' plant with the ability to rapidly establish in disturbed land, roadside verges and newly planted forest. It could be a fire risk and a refuge for other pests such as mice, rats, rabbits and possums.

“Most areas in the Waikato have a total control rule for pampas, but to reduce the threats of pampas to the Region the Regional Pest Management Strategy has provided for a graduated extension of this rule to all areas, including Coromandel Peninsula. Total control will come into effect across the Coromandel on a graduated basis over the next two years, beginning in the area north of the 309 Road,” he said.

Before the rule is brought in Environment Waikato wanted to ensure people could recognise the plant and know how to effectively control it.

There are two species of pampas in New Zealand – common and purple pampas. Both are tall tussock-forming grasses with coarse abrasive leaves and distinctive fluffy flowers. The white flowers of common pampas appear in mid-March while the purple tinted flowers of purple pampas flowers emerge in late January.

“They are often mistaken for our native toetoe. Pampas flower heads are upright and fluffier than the earlier flowering toetoe. The plant base has distinguishing leaf sheaths that look like ‘wood shavings’. Toetoe has a distinctive white waxy covering of the leaf sheaths at the base of the plant,” he said.

Both pampas species come from South America, with common pampas introduced late in the 18th century as a stock food, hedging, and for erosion control. Purple pampas was accidentally introduced in the mid-1900s. Both species were planted as ornamentals and are now naturalised throughout New Zealand.

A solitary pampas plant could infest many other sites. Pampas flower heads produce very large quantities of seed that can be wind-blown considerable distances. Seed can also be 'transported' to other sites in road aggregate from quarries and by animals.

Mr Russell said eradicating pampas from the Coromandel was a big job but landowners could get advice and information from Environment Waikato. Methods vary depending on the site or size of the plants and may include physical or chemical control.

Landowners should contact Biosecurity Plant Pest Contractor Jeff Jeffery on 0800 BIOSECURITY (0800 246 732) so plants can be identified and work begun to remove them.