A few years ago I was taking my brother-in-law to the end of Matapouri beach to see a beautiful specimen of Cortaderia splendens, our local Toe toe, we marched up the sand dunes as I was proudly telling him how I had found a particularly nice form of Toe toe but was horrified to find that the plant had been sprayed and killed obviously mistaken for the weed commonly known as pampas grass.
The native species are generally known as Toe toe which is frequently mispronounced and miss-spelt as Toi toi. Many New Zealander's don't know the difference between the native species and the introduced pampas grass which they also refer to as Toe toe.
Unfortunately Tutukaka could claim to be the pampas capital of the world, particularly parts of the block road, the end of Te Maika road and the main road from Tutukaka to Ngunguru could.
The difference between the two plants is quite easily distinguished once you know a few facts. Native Toe toe produces pure white flower heads through late spring, the surface of its leaf is dark shiny green and smooth, it has a distinctive secondary vein between the midrib and margin of the leaf and when the leaves die they hang down flat. Pampas or Cortaderia selloana begins flowering late January and has a purple flower head. Its leaves are dull rough to touch and only have a single midrib. One of the easiest ways to identify this weed from our native plant is when pampas leaves die they curl up like wood shavings at the base of the plant.
Unfortunately Tutukaka could claim to be the pampas capital of the world,
Unlike the weed, the native Toe toe can sometimes be difficult to propagate; the seed does not store well, where as if you scratch the surface or have a bare clay bank pampas will be one of the first weeds to grow. The seed carries great distances in strong wind and was one of the weeds found invading the Poor Knights islands.
Pampas is easily killed by spraying with the herbicide glyphosate or digging out with a spade. They make excellent compost when dead.
Further south in cities such as Christchurch the native Cortaderia is used quite extensively in modern landscapes where as in the north it is rarely used in gardens due to its perceived similarity to the weed pampas.
The genus contains about twenty five species in which five are endemic to NZ, one to Papua-new guinea and the remainder to South America.
The plant forms large clumps up to 2m tall with flower stems rising to 3m. Once established the species will grow well in a variety of soils from coastal to low inland mountain areas they are very wind tolerant.
Fortunately we had collected seed from the outstanding Matapouri plant during its previous years flowering and have kept that particular variety alive.