What is Cortaderia?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 February 2019
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Cortaderia is a genus of grasses consisting of 20 to 25 species. The vast majority of these plants are native to South America, with less than half a dozen species originating from New Guinea and New Zealand. These grasses are quite tall and are frequently used as ornamental plants due to their attractive white plumes. Though originally introduced to the United States for decorative purposes, it quickly became an invasive species, particularly in California. The entire genus is usually called Pampas Grass; however, only one specie of the Cortaderia genus is officially named so.

The species Cortaderia jubata is considered a weed in multiple countries, including the United States and New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand has banned its people from growing or selling the plant. Some parks in the United States struggle with this species because of its ability to harbor pests, compete with the local vegetation, and produce an abundance of dry foliage prone to catching fire. Even when this plant is seemingly destroyed by fire, it can grow again. With every Cortaderia plant capable of producing more than one million seeds, one must ensure all plants are destroyed to prevent another invasion.


Another species, Cortaderia selloana, officially named Pampas Grass in 1818 after the botanist who studied the plant, was introduced to Europe for grazing. The plant has leaves with extremely sharp edges that must be handled with caution. This species is capable of growing in a wide range of climates and environments. There are now several cultivars of this plant, including the sunningdale silver, which won the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) for being an excellent garden plant.

Plants categorized under this genus require full sun exposure and moist but well-drained soil. The seeds normally take anywhere from two to three weeks to germinate. Seedlings should be watered sparingly, as they can decay from heavy watering. The white, cream, or pink flowers bloom from late summer to early fall. Dwarf varieties can be acquired for smaller spaces if necessary.

Historically, many parts of Cortaderia fulvida, as well as a few other very similar species, were used in many aspects of the Māori people’s lives. They used the leaves of these plants to make a variety of household goods, including mats and baskets. To stop bleeding, they applied the seeds of this plant directly to their wounds. These plants were also utilized in the treatment of burns, diarrhea, and kidney complications. The leaves were not the only part of the plant used by the Māori; they also used the stalks as a building material.



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