Pesky Pampas! Not Native Toetoe

Department of Conservation —  10/05/2022

Main article by Eden Fearnside, Year 4, Hunua School

Further information by Julia Fearnside

Hi, my name is Eden and I am 7 years old. I want to share some information about a weed called pampas. Pampas is an impostor weed that looks a lot like toetoe. When my family drove around the countryside, I liked looking at the fluffy white grasses. We thought this was New Zealand toetoe (often misspelt as toi toi). When I looked on the internet, I was so surprised to find out this grass was not toetoe! It is called pampas and it comes from South America.

Pampas weed is spreading everywhere in the New Zealand environment.
📷: Julia Fearnside

Pampas is bad because it is an invasive weed. It has been known as a pest plant since 2001. It was introduced to New Zealand by early settlers. Pampas is a tussock grass that spreads very quickly and grows quickly. One female plant can make millions of seeds. These can spread up to 25km! Pampas takes over an area of land and other native plants can’t grow. It has lots of dry parts which make it a fire risk. It can be a home for pests like rats, rabbits, mice and possums.

Pampas spreads quickly, making it hard for other native plants to grow. The seed heads
can look quite different to each other, but they all point straight up.
📷: Julia Fearnside

Differences between Toetoe and Pampas

There are differences between pampas and toetoe grasses. The main differences are that toetoe flowers are light, golden yellow. The flowerheads and stems are drooping. The main features of pampas flowers are that the flower heads are thicker, fluffier and point straight up. They are white, cream, pink or purple in colour.

Pampas and toetoe plants also flower at different times of the year. You can see toetoe flowers during spring and summer. Pampas starts flowering in Autumn, but I have noticed old seed heads all year round.


  • Large plant that can grow more than 5 metres high
  • Pampas flowers are fluffy and white, cream, pink or purple
  • The flowers and stems stick straight upwards
  • Pampas leaves have sharp, jagged edges
  • Pampas leaves snap when you break them
  • Pampas leaves are dark green with one big vein in the middle
  • The old, dead leaves turn brown and curl up at the base making them a fire risk and home for pests
  • Pampas starts flowering in Autumn
  • When some pampas seed heads get old, they can droop downwards and become creamy brown making them look similar to toetoe. But don’t be fooled by pesky pampas – look for other features on the plant.
  • Scientific name of pampas species start with Cortaderia

These are two species, common pampas and purple pampas


Toetoe is a symbol of Aotearoa. It is our country’s largest native tussock grass. It can only be found in New Zealand (endemic). Toetoe can be seen at places like sand dunes, cliffs, swamps and wetlands. There are five species of native toetoe in New Zealand. In the past, Māori used toetoe for making medicines, for walls and roofs in houses, and mats and kete (baskets). Toetoe is part of New Zealand’s heritage.

  • Smaller plant that can grow up to 3 metres tall
  • Toetoe flowers are golden or cream in colour
  • The flowers and stems droop downwards
  • Toetoe flowers are delicate, pale gold and curving
  • Toetoe leaves do not snap when you break them
  • Toetoe leaves are light to mid green with sharp edges and have a white, waxy layer at the bases
  • Toetoe leaves have several obvious veins on either side of the large middle vein
  • The old, dead leaves on toetoe, do not curl up at the base
  • Toetoe starts flowering in spring and early summer
  • Scentific name of the five toetoe species start with Austroderia
Toetoe Castlepoint Reserve
📷: Herb Christophers

If you think you have toetoe in your area, it could actually be pampas! You can research on the internet how to get rid of pesky pampas. Please help to spread this information and not pampas! Thank you.

Eden Fearnside, 2022

Here are some useful websites about pampas and toetoe. If you find pampas on your own land, please research before removing pampas. If you find pampas on public land (Department of Conservation or Council), please let your local council or the Department of Conservation know where it is.

Removal tips can be found on these links:

Other useful links:

20 responses to Pesky Pampas! Not Native Toetoe

    Unknown or Deleted User 08/06/2022 at 5:29 pm

    Excellent mahi here. Brilliant. I remember my husband saving me from planting pampas when it had been sold to me as toe toe by a nursery!

    Barb Purcell 07/06/2022 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you Eden, I only just discovered the pampas were not toetoe last week! Your article has given me a lot more information about the difference between the two. Thank you for sharing your well researched article and the links to other useful sites.

    Phil Jameson 07/06/2022 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent article. Would never have known the difference although on a trip recently I commented that the Toe Toe seemed to be very prolific. Obviously these were Pampas.


    Fantastic job Eden you are very intelligent and smart, I really love the way you compared the Toetoe and the Pampa together and proved it was an Pesky Pampa and not an Toetoe.I like the way you explained this.Amazing Blog.


    this is written and researched very well. Good job at giving everyone more information about pampas.


    Excellent article. Travelled from South to Picton last Weeke and couldn’t believe how much pampas was about.


    While travelling around the north Island for a month recently I kept thinking I’d never noticed before that Toetoe came in so many shades and now I know thank you. I knew of pampas grass but didn’t realise it was so similar to our native Toetoe!


    Rawe nga korero e tama,
    Awesome article and very informative Pal👌🏽💯


    Thank you for sharing such an informative article. It’s easy to read, understand and very well written. It will definitely benefit a wide audience. Offering links to assist with removal tips is a smart idea too. Well done. It definitely deserves top marks.

    Andrea Connell 11/05/2022 at 8:52 pm

    Brilliant I’ve wanted to know the difference for a while ! And yes I think it’s pampas NOT toetoe in my garden time to dig it out.


    today our teacher is giving a task about toe toe and this helps alot


    Great work Eden & Fern. I too would like people to be aware that pampas is not toetoe. That toetoe is endemic to Aotearoa & that there are 5 species was new info for me.
    Thank you.


    Thanks for this very helpful interesting article.


    Fabulous article, So well written and researched! I have an Eden who will be very interested in reading this also.


    Well done Eden. Fabulous article that is clearly written and well researched. Great that you have photos for comparison. Thanks for sharing.


    Thank you very much, I have learned a LOT.

    Bayard Randel 10/05/2022 at 12:40 pm

    Thank you for the informative article Eden, my family will be very interested to learn to discern pampas from toetoe.


    Useful knowledge detected! Thanks for sharing.

    Peter Hallinan 10/05/2022 at 12:11 pm

    A helpful and well researched article. Who knows? You may one day be the scientist who discovers how to gene edit pampas out of Aotearoa.


    Marvellous girls a great article, education is badly needed on pest plants. Need to do one on Chinese fan palms as well, I don’t own one but pull out dozens on my property carried from neighbours by Blackbirds.