Friday, August 27, 2010

Plant profile: Cortaderia

Popular in the 1970s as garden features, a fat clump of C. selloana in particular, commonly known as Pampas Grass, was planted like a giant, fluffy island in the middle of many a lawn at that time, spreading via seeds to other neighbors and creating ill will in many a community. They're experiencing a resurgence in popularity now, with new variegated species available - prettier, and less rampant!

Latin name: Cortaderia ("kor-ta-DEER-ee-ah")
Common name: Pampas Grass
Originally from: Cortaderia is a genus of 20-25 species of grasses, native to South America (15-20 species), New Zealand (four species) and New Guinea (one species).
Blooms: Late summer brings tall, off-white feathery spikes that will last for many months.  Some cultivars have pinkish "feathers."
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. Very tough indeed.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 8'-10' x 36"-48"
USDA Zones: 7a-10b
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left and brights beds we have several C. selloana "Silver Comet" - a nice variegated cultivar.
Where to find at PRG: Several clumps of  C. selloana "Gold Band" and C. selloana "Silver Comet" live along PRG.

The name Cortaderia comes from the Spanish word for cutting, because the leaf edges in Cortaderia species are painfully serrated – don’t run your hands through the leaves! C. selloana was named by Alexander von Humboldt in 1818, after the German botanist and naturalist Friedrich Sellow, who studied the flora of South America, especially that of Brazil. This species was introduced to Europe and North America as an ornamental grass, and, to a lesser extent, to provide food for grazing animals. The feathery flower head plumes, when dried, are widely used in flower arrangements and other ornamental displays.

Pampas Grass is highly adaptable and can grow in a wide range of environments and climates. As mentioned above, it also seeds prolifically, with each plant able to produce over 1 million seeds during its lifetime. As such, in some areas (for example California, Hawaii or Spain) it is regarded as an invasive weed, whilst in New Zealand and South Africa the plant is banned from sale and propagation for the same reasons. Removal of Pampas Grass by burning will not always prevent return. Shooting it with silver bullets won't work at all. However, chemical weed killer will kill the grass at the roots. You'll be happy to hear that the one we have at P. Garden is a sterile cultivar, so no worries about the entire neighborhood becoming choked with it!

UPDATE December 2015:
This plant is tougher than a tough thing. We divided it several ways to create more clumps, and also planted more down at PRG, all of which have been flourishing with zero water. 10/10 for hard core drought busting action.

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