A Wellington bride-to-be is warning others of a growing wedding trend that could be helping to spread a noxious weed around the country.

As wedding season approaches, more couples are incorporating an imposter of the native toetoe plant into their bouquets and decor, some without realising how easily it can spread.

Pampas grass imitates the native toetoe – often misspelt as toitoi – but the South American species can survive nearly anything and “can invade almost any habitat” said Greater Wellington Regional Council’s biosecurity adviser Katrina Merrifield.

Toetoe produces drooping, light golden-yellow flowerheads from September to January, whereas Pampas points upright and produces straight, dense, fluffy white-pinkish flowerheads from January to June, which fade to a dirty white as the seed forms. Another type of pampas produces bright purple flowerheads.

Austroderia toetoe. Photo / Duncan Brown
Austroderia toetoe. Photo / Duncan Brown

Pampas leaves will also snap easily and dead leaves will curl at the base, while toetoe leaves don’t.

Pampa grass inflorescences (Cortaderia selloana). Photo / Supplied
Pampa grass inflorescences (Cortaderia selloana). Photo / Supplied

“Because pampas tolerates heat and frost, salt, wind, wet and drought, moderate-shade, most soils, low fertility, and recovers quickly after fire, there’s pretty much nowhere in NZ that it can’t do well,” Merrifield said.

The weed quickly colonises sprayed, burnt, slipped, or otherwise disturbed sites, and replaces groundcovers, shrubs and ferns.

Not only does the plant create fire hazards, but it also provides homes for pests such as rats and possums, and grows densely.

“The seedheads of pampas – the parts I presume are being used in wedding bouquets – produce massive amounts of seed that spread long distances.”

The seeds can spread through a number of means, but mainly by wind and water.

Merrifield said people using pampas decoratively in their weddings should be aware of “how fast it can invade almost any habitat and become an issue”, and encouraged them to use toetoe instead if possible.

“Failing that, perhaps the areas where the seedheads are taken to can be chosen with avoiding spreading seed in mind. This applies to disposal of bouquets as well. Or, use the seedheads, but do so after all the seed has fallen from them.”

Future bride Loren is getting married in December, and took to social media to warn other brides of the difference between the two species.

Loren, who is currently studying biodiversity management, said pampas was “just hell”.

“It’s massive and you can’t get rid of it.

“I get why brides want to use them, they look great I suppose, if that’s what you’re into. They’re also free to forage.

“It’s just a look at the moment that everyone’s loving.”

But there were “so many other cool, beautiful options” people could gather for free, she said.

“People probably also don’t know that they’re a noxious weed, which is a real shame.”

Loren is determined to have a “low impact wedding” and, while she’ll be using foraged plants in her decorations, she will not have any invasive weeds.

She was “just trying to educate” people about the plants.

“If you know better you can do better.”

One former bride said she used both pampas and toetoe in her wedding decor, but was careful to reduce the spread of seeds.

Becca said she dried the pampas upside down and coated it with hairspray to prevent it moulting too much, as she knew it was a weed.

“It’s usually bushier than toetoe, that’s why people use it because it looks fuller and nicer.”

Toetoe is also in season for less time, so is harder to find.

Meanwhile a Wellington florist refuses to use pampas due to its invasive nature.

Flowers Manuela manager Juliet said they wanted to showcase New Zealand products, and were lucky to have suppliers with access to toetoe.

They had noticed more people asking for pampas, but when they explained why they would not include it in decorations, customers were often “horrified” and “opt to not go anywhere near it”.

More information about pampas can be found on the Weedbusters website.

A toetoe arrangement created by Flowers Manuela in Wellington. Photo / Supplied
A toetoe arrangement created by Flowers Manuela in Wellington. Photo / Supplied

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