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Instagram weddings blamed for popularity of pampas grass, a noxious weed
Biosecurity officers from a north coast NSW council have seized outlawed pampas grass from florists
The plant is considered a noxious weed in several states and is banned from sale in parts of NSW
The wheat-coloured decorative grass has become popular at weddings and florists say the law on its use is unclear
Pampas grass is native to South America and is considered a weed in most Australian states and territories as it competes with native vegetation and is a fire hazard.
It is a highly invasive plant, with each flower head producing up to 100,000 seeds that can spread to a 25-kilometre radius, and is banned from sale in the Greater Sydney, Hunter, south-east and north coast regions of NSW.
Kim Curtis from Rous County Council said officers had seized the outlawed grass from three locations in the Byron Bay and Tweed regions over the past two weeks.
"It's scary, the seeds on pampas grass can travel for kilometres and it could create another outbreak of a high-priority weed that farmers have to deal with for years to come," she said.
A wedding planner in Byron Bay, Che Devlin, said brides started asking for the wheat-coloured decorative grass for their big days after photos from a Byron Bay hinterland wedding, featuring the grass, went viral on Instagram in 2017.
A Rous County Council biosecurity officer displays pampas grass seized from a florist.
"The pampas grass looked fantastic and after someone sees a particular look like that on Instagram, then that's what they want," he said.
Mr Devlin said after the council had informed florists that the plant was banned on the north coast there had been an attempt to steer people away from the weed towards native plants.
However he said it could be difficult to dissuade a bride who had a certain aesthetic in mind.
"The hard thing is, a lot of these florists, if they say no to a bride then that bride will go to the florist who will say yes, so it becomes an economical thing," Mr Devlin said.
Florist Jaala Mills, who co-owns Bower Botanicals in Byron Bay, has worked on a number of local pampas grass weddings.
She said her business had not been involved in the recent pampa grass seizures and that her team had made every effort to ensure the grass was not harmful to the environment.
"We imported the grass in from California," she said.
"It was quarantined in Australia and it went through a process of irradiation to kill the seeds and then we had documentation from customs saying we were legally allowed to have it."
Ms Mills said most florists wanted to do the right thing but there was confusion in the industry about whether they were allowed to hire out grass that had been treated to kill the seeds.
"I wish someone could come out and say exactly what the deal is," she said.
"We want clarification. We hear rumours you can be slapped with a fine for $60,000 but we don't know for sure."
Pampas grass has also become popular in retail floral arrangements.
Rous County Council's Kim Curtis said under the Biosecurity Act it was still illegal to sell pampas grass on the NSW north coast even if it had been irradiated because it was impossible to tell which plants had been treated.
"These certificates aren't issued by the Department of Primary Industries and we can't prove that a particular stalk refers to a particular certificate.
"Anyone could just get the grass down off the railway line in Newcastle and say this is the certificate for it. How could we know that's true?"
She said anyone planning a wedding should think carefully about what flowers they used, especially if they were bringing arrangements across the borders of states that had different weed laws.
"Some people are bringing the flowers over the border from Queensland," she said.
"It's a case of the bride might always be right but she needs to know there are alternatives that are ecologically sustainable."
Those in the wedding industry said the pampas grass trend was one they would be happy to see the back of, with both Ms Mills and Mr Devlin saying the product was a nightmare to handle.
"It's messy, it gets all over you," Ms Mills said.
"It gets in your nose and mouth, and there are so many other beautiful wild grasses."