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Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)

Plant Species
From Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook *
 By
S. Smoliak, R.L. Ditterline, J.D. Scheetz, L.K. Holzworth, J.R. Sims, L.E. Wiesner, D.E. Baldridge, and G.L. Tibke

Meadow foxtail is a native to temperate Europe and Asia where it has been widely used as a hay grass for wetlands since 1750. It was introduced into western Wyoming in 1888. It is most prominently used in the Pacific Northwest, although it is adapted to the entire northern United States and into Canada. It is sometimes confused with other grasses. It is similar in appearance to timothy, and the name is sometimes confused with the weedy foxtail barley.

Description

Meadow foxtail is a long-lived perennial with short, weak rhizomes. The growth habit begins as a bunch type, but a dense sod eventually forms. The flowering stems are erect and usually 3 feet high. The spike-like seed head is cylindrical and elongated (2 to 3 inches), very similar to the seed head of timothy. The seeds of meadow foxtail turn a dark grey or greenish-gray upon maturity, while those of creeping foxtail turn black. The numerous dark green leaves are flat and lax, but somewhat narrower than those of creeping foxtail. This species develops at least three weeks earlier than timothy.

Adaptation

Meadow foxtail does best where the climate is moist and cool; however, it is not sensitive to heat and cold, surviving in areas with summer temperatures at or above 100, or in areas with winter temperatures consistently below zero. It does well at high elevations where frost can occur any month of the year. It is well adapted to peaty soils or soils with a high water table. This grass will also survive on clay or loam soils in areas of high rainfall or where irrigation or subirrigation is available. Meadow foxtail will tolerate moderate amounts of acidity or alkalinity.

Limitations

The light, feathery seed of meadow foxtail is difficult to harvest, as well as plant. Seed must be mixed with a carrier such as cracked corn or rice hulls. Meadow foxtail has weak, slowly-developing seedlings. It is quite intolerant of drought and prolonged periods of hot, dry weather. It survives in areas of moderate moisture, but is a poor forage producer under those conditions.

Use for Hay

Meadow foxtail can be used for hay, but its forage yields are lower than can be expected from reed canarygrass and timothy. Lodging can be a problem with this grass. This species, like creeping foxtail, is earlier growing than most grasses, and is ready for hay harvest in mid-June. Regrowth after cutting is very rapid, resulting sometimes in two or three cuttings in one year. This grass has also been harvested as silage, and the regrowth grazed.

Use for Pasture

Meadow foxtail is best adapted as a pasture grass, producing nutritious and very palatable forage over a long grazing season. Established stands are more or less permanent unless continually overstocked. Stock should be rotated when the plant height reaches 4 inches. It will withstand heavy trampling, and if grazing is delayed until June, the trampling action will press shattered seed into the ground. Meadow foxtail can be planted with a legume, but will eventually dominate the stand.

Seed Production

Most of the seed production and use of this grass is in Oregon. However, it can be grown on any site on which creeping foxtail is adapted. Because of the light, fluffy seed and the indeterminate seed ripening, seed production is quite difficult. Seed should be harvested when seeds begin to shatter from the tips of the seed heads. Strippers can be run through the field every two to three days as the seed continues to mature. Combining from a windrow is the most common method of harvest. The wind on the combine must be minimized by covering the openings on the fan housing or inactivating the fan. Seed must be run through a hammermill or debearder prior to clean-ing. Seed production is between 200 and 400 pounds per acre depending upon seed recovery success. Seed production responds significantly to nitrogen fertilization.

* The Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook (EB69) is no longer in print, but is available for viewing in
Montana County Extension Service and National Resource Conservation Service Offices.