Pampas Grass: Friend or Foe?

Pampas grass has been a hot hot hot wedding trend for years now, but at what cost?

There’s a really easy way to get florists and stylists (and an increasing number of other wedding vendors) all fired up – simply say the word ‘pampas grass’ and watch the fireworks. There’s no denying it’s gorgeous – fluffy and wild and whimsical and a definite staple of the current ‘boho luxe’ trend – but it has a huge environmental impact and is a noxious weed, meaning it’s illegal in New South Wales.

If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone! Lots of people don’t – including florists. The law is relatively recent, quietly coming into effect in late 2017, and pampas grass still seems to be everywhere – we’re still seeing it in styled shoots and weddings all over the Hunter and the rest of New South Wales.

One of our 2016 weddings – before we knew more.

There are a couple of myths about pampas grass, which could be contributing to its ongoing use.

The first is about what the law actually is. According to the Weedwise website, Pampas grass is not to be ‘bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment’. There are some who argue that foraging it and using it in a wedding – or only in your own styling – doesn’t break any of those rules.

We’re not so sure. In fact, we don’t think these grey areas are particularly grey at all – especially not when it comes to its environmental impact.

Here’s the thing: pampas grass is an invasive noxious weed that outcompetes native vegetation, harbours vermin and is a huge fire risk. Each stem of pampas grass contains up to 100,000 seeds and anyone who’s touched one knows how prone they are to coming loose – aside from everything else, pampas grass is messy. Whether it’s being bought or sold or “used for styling”, it’s just as damaging to the environment. Yes, technically you might be on the right side of the letter of the law, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

And then there’s the other big myth – that while pampas grass is illegal, you can import a legal version that has been treated to kill all the seeds. It makes a sort of sense: appropriate irradiation would make pampas harmless. Those 100,000 seeds can no longer sprout so there’s no threat to the landscape when using it, and it would explain why it still seems to be used so liberally through the wedding industry. People who are buying or selling treated pampas grass are genuinely trying to do the right thing, and, if it actually is imported and treated, they’re doing so at considerable cost!

The one problem: there’s no way to prove that a particular piece of pampas grass has been treated, so you don’t know what you’re actually getting. And the authorities know that too, which is why when it comes to legalities, this is a big old myth. There’s no such thing as legal pampas grass in NSW – no matter where it comes from or how it’s been treated, it’s illegal and anyone caught buying, selling or growing it can face a hefty fine.

As a florist, it’s frustrating.

We still get regular enquiries from couples who love the look of pampas grass and want it for their weddings. We get why – we used it a lot before it was outlawed, even with the knowledge that it probably wasn’t the most environmentally friendly flower!

Our first step is to educate and inform, and then offer alternatives: either different plants which offer similar looks, or faux versions, which are just getting better and better! Some couples listen, but many just go and find a florist who’ll provide pampas, legal or not.

Faux pamas is getting better and better. We’re loving it both as a feature or a finishing touch. Image by Rhys Ireland for Hungry Heart Co.

So what’s the solution? We don’t know. It’s great to see that this issue is getting a little bit more mainstream attention – this article by the ABC tackles the issue really well and spells out lots of facts, and we hope this raises awareness among florists, engaged couples and the wedding industry as a whole and makes everyone involved think twice about pampas.

At the end of the day, though, we can’t tell anyone else how to run their business or couples how to plan their weddings – everyone has their own lines in the sand. This is ours, and we hope by sharing that we’ve made just one person think about theirs.

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