Barry Weaver has a passion, and that passion is getting rid of a plant that is increasingly invading the Central Coast area - pampas grass.

Decorators have long used the feathery stalks for ornamentation inside homes, and gardeners have used pampas grass for landscaping for many years. In fact, the plant was introduced into Santa Barbara by the nursery business in 1848.

But make no mistake - it's a weed.

For several years many of California's coastal counties, including Santa Barbara County, have had active programs to eradicate the plant.

Once pampas grass gets started, it will proliferate quickly. Each pampas grass plant is able to produce more than a million seeds during its lifetime, and the wind can blow seeds up to 20 miles. The seeds also can be spread by farm or ranch equipment or by off-road vehicles.

Once established, the vigorously growing pampas grass pushes out other vegetation already living there. It takes over, clogging waterways and wetlands and causing environmental chaos. And when dry, it can be a fire hazard.

The grass thrives in coastal regions and likes disturbed areas. Now, it can be seen growing on road cuts along Highway 1 just south of Lompoc.

"Five years ago, I don't remember seeing it along Highway 1. Now, it's getting really bad," said Weaver, a Lompoc resident.

Another place the grass is proliferating is along Jalama Road, the 14-mile scenic byway off Highway 1 to Jalama Beach. Vandenberg Air Force Base has major infestations, as do Vandenberg Village and Burton Mesa.

Weaver, a retired teacher and a member of Lompoc's Beautification and Appearance Commission, has gone so far as to have errant stands of pampas grass eradicated on his own dime. He also has taken it out himself on roadsides all along the Central Coast.

"(Even) ranchers don't like it," Weaver said. "It takes away pasture land, and the cows don't eat it."

Eradicating pampas grass is quite a chore. The leaves are sharp and tough. The plant has a large taproot that makes it difficult to pull out. The root ball must be dug out completely and disposed of property to get rid of the plant; strong herbicide is another option.

David Chang, a weed-management specialist with the Agricultural Commissioner's Office for Santa Barbara County, said that a decade ago, the county had a grant to specifically take out pampas grass infestations. It was funded by the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project and by the county's Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund.

But as money has been getting tighter and tighter in the last few years, grant funding has been shrinking, and the county has had to prioritize with its weed removal. The county isn't taking out pampas grass right now, except for infestations that pose a particular threat, according to Chang.

That's not to say it isn't a priority.

"We are emphasizing the removal of pampas grass from the areas of Jalama Road, Highway 1 between Gaviota and Lompoc, from Las Positas Road and the Goleta Slough. We will likely be treating some of these infestations in the future," he said, adding that he hopes more funding becomes available.

Weaver said the general public should be educated about pampas grass so they will stop planting it and take it out whenever they see it. To him, the effort is a crusade.

He recommends finding out more about pampas grass and other problem plant species through the California Invasive Plant Council (www.cal-ipc.org).

The group recommends that instead of planting pampas grass or fountain grass, homeowners should plant blue oat grass, deer grass, giant wild rye, lavender, California fescue or San Diego sedge.

 

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