The Ranger is fond of internet tittle-tattle, and occasionally enjoys the salacious titbits found on the Holy Moly gossip website. There’s something curiously compelling in scurrilous untruths about people you’ve either never heard of, or wish you’d never heard of. This week amongst tales of huge stars like Jodie Marsh’s ex-husband and that disaster area pop star Pete Doherty, it asked, in all innocence:
QUESTION! Which TV couple were mightily pleased to plant the old ‘pampas grass’ in their front garden as a marriage saver?
Goodness knows what the answer is – and indeed it’s pretty irrelevant. But what’s this about pampas grass? Some euphemism obviously… but for what? The Ranger’s interest was piqued.
It didn’t take long to find out a few juicy facts about pampas grass. Now pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), a native of South America, is a widely-used ornamental grass. For many years it has been planted in suburban gardens across Britain and elsewhere. It grows easily and takes little management. It was particularly popular in the mid-twentieth century when open-plan gardens became more popular, and quick-growing, low-maintenance plants came into vogue; another example being the dreaded Leylandii. Vulnerability to fire meant that pampas was never hugely popular in public parks and gardens, but nevertheless it has remained a staple of informal British landscape gardening for a long time. Strangely, the rest of the world views pampas grass quite differently. Apart from South America where it is indigenous, most other nations seem to view it as a pernicious pest. In the USA, the National Park Service gives advice on how to destroy it, and invites us to:
Discourage people from picking the plumes and waving them around, transporting them in vehicles or attaching them to their radio antenna. These plumes are full of viable seeds which will be dispersed everywhere!
In New Zealand, it is apparently illegal to even sell or plant it. It’s a similar story in Australia and South Africa, and elsewhere. So what do our former colonies know about pampas that we in the UK do not? The ominous answer is that we’re about to find out. In the British climate, pampas grass does not usually set seed successfully. Anyone who’s seen the big fronds will realise just how many seeds a big clump can produce, so it’s a good job they never do anything. But with the gradually warming temperature, that’s about to change. On a nature reserve very close to where The Ranger lives, he was examining the site recently when a colleague pointed out the clumps of pampas which were springing up along the edge, all downwind of a holiday camp where the grass had been planted. There was none there a few years ago. It looks as though action is going to be needed to control it – but if the seeds keep coming there’s no action that can stop them germinating. All that can be done is to get rid of them once they do. Reports from other parts of southern Britain suggest the same thing is happening. And if climate change is indeed to blame then it will spread northwards. If pampas gets established in natural habitats it probably won’t be a good thing – it grows fast, supports little wildlife of its own and will displace native species. But hold on, what about the cultural significance of pampas grass? The answer to the Holy Moly riddle suggests that this spread of pampas is not just an environmental problem: it could unpick the very fabric of British society! It appears that to have pampas grass planted in your front garden is a secret signal that you are a ‘swinger‘. If that’s the case, sooner or later we’ll all be at it as pampas silently creeps into our gardens and corrupts our morals. Perhaps the forces of moral outrage could be harnessed to do some good for once, and given billhooks to go out and uproot the evil of pampas grass once and for all.