To Grass Species

Creeping Foxtail (Alopecurus arundinaceus)

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

Creeping foxtail is a cool-season perennial, native to Eurasia. The first introductions arrived in North Dakota in 1902 from the Ukraine, and were established in isolated areas. The common name "creeping foxtail" has caused some concern, as it is often confused with the weedy grass, foxtail barley, although it does not look anything like it. It grows native on wet, salty soils, on flood plains, along rivers and streams, and in bogs from the Arctic to Italy, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, possibly China, and most frequently in the steppe zones. The eastern limit is in Siberia, and the western limit is in the British Isles.


Creeping foxtail is a long-lived perennial with dense, vigorous rhizomes. It rapidly forms a dense sod as individual plants may spread as much as 4 feet in one year. The numerous, dark green leaves are flat, broad and lax. The spike-like seed head is cylindrical and elongated (2 to 4 inches long). The seed head looks very similar to that of timothy. Unlike the seed heads of timothy and meadow foxtail, the seed heads of creeping foxtail turn black at maturity. The glumes are sharply keeled and long ciliate along the keel. Depending upon soil moisture and available nutrients, the plants vary from 2 to 6 feet tall. This species initiates growth very early in the spring, setting mature seed by late June.


This grass is adapted to a wide range of soils, provided sufficient soil moisture is available. It performs well on sands, loam, clay, peat, and muck soils. It is tolerant of both moderately acid (pH 5.6 to 6.0) and moderately alkaline (pH 7.9 to 8.4) soils. It has moderate salt tolerance of 12 to 14 mmhos/cm. Creeping foxtail requires a continual supply of soil moisture by irrigation or subirrigation, and will survive under dryland conditions with a minimum of 25 inches precipitation annually. It will withstand flooding by as much as 2 to 3 feet of water for as long as 30 days without injury. Creeping foxtail is best adapted to the cooler regions in northern United States and Canada. It performs well on wet and flooded permafrost soils in Alaska to mountain meadows in New Mexico. Of all the factors affecting the performance of creeping foxtail, elevation has the least direct influence. It has been grown successfully at 500 feet in Missouri to 9,300 feet in Montana. High temperatures for extended periods of time during the summer result in poor performance by this grass.


Seed of creeping foxtail is light and hairy, and therefore, difficult to harvest as well as plant. Seed must be mixed with a carrier such as cracked corn or rice hulls. Coated seed are now available, and these greatly ease problems in seed flow in drills. Seedlings are small and weak after emergence, and growth is slow during the first two months. Growth and establishment is good once rhizomes begin to form. The light seed is easily spread by air or water, causing problems along waterways. This grass does not tolerate drought or prolonged dry periods. Nitrogen fertilization is required to maintain forage production, and is essential in seed production fields.

Use for Hay


Creeping foxtail produces excellent forage, provided it is harvested before flowering. Because it matures so early, it may not be possible to harvest hay at the optimum time on the wet, boggy sites on which it does best. The closest competitor to creeping foxtail on wet sites is reed canarygrass. Reed canarygrass produces more dry matter than creeping foxtail, but when dry matter digestibility and percentage protein are considered, yields are comparable. Creeping foxtail can be seeded in alternate rows with legumes for forage production. Cicer milkvetch, however, is one of the few legumes competitive enough to hold its own in a stand of creeping foxtail. The aftermath straw resulting from seed harvesting makes an excellent coarse hay relished by cattle and particularly horses.

Use for Pasture

Creeping foxtail is well-suited for pastures because of its early growth, rapid recovery after grazing, and it does not go dormant during the hotter summer months. Its palatability is excellent, being preferred over most grasses in preference trials. It is used readily by all classes of livestock. The dense sod of creeping foxtail will withstand trampling, and will recover from heavy, close grazing. Mixed stands of creeping foxtail and cicer milkvetch make excellent pasture on wet or subirrigated mountain meadows and irrigated pastureland.

Seed Production

Creeping foxtail is one of the more difficult grasses to harvest for seed. Proper management of the seed fields, timing of harvest and adjustment of harvesting and processing equipment are essential for good yields and seed recovery. Because of the irregular maturation of the seed, determination of optimum time of harvest is difficult. Seeds shatter easily and within hours of maturity. Seed is best harvested when 75 percent or more of the seeds are black, or when 50 percent of the seed heads have begun to shatter at the tip. Some seed growers have begun to use seed strippers, going through the fields every two to three days as the seed continues to mature. Combining from a windrow is the most common method of harvest. Because of the extremely light, feathery seed, the wind on the combine must be shut off completely, either by covering the ends of the fan housing or inactivating the fan. Seed must be run through a hammermill or debearder prior to cleaning. Average seed production on irrigated or wet, subirrigated land is between 200 and 400 pounds per acre, depending upon how well the seed is recovered. With increasing amounts of nitrogen fertilization, seed production fields can remain productive for up to 10 years.

* 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.