Alopecurus pratensis L.

Meadow Foxtail


CC = *
CW = -3
MOC = 16

© SRTurner

Family - Poaceae/Aveneae

Habit - Perennial cool-season (C3) grass, forming small clumps.

Stems - Flowering stems 40-90 cm long, erect or ascending from often spreading bases, sometimes rooting at the lower nodes.


© SRTurner

Leaves - Leaf sheaths with the ligules 1-4 mm long. Leaf blades 4-25 cm long, 2-8 mm wide, flat.

Alopecurus_pratensis_leaf1.jpg Culm and leaf.

© SRTurner

Alopecurus_pratensis_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Alopecurus_pratensis_sheath.jpg Leaf sheath.

© SRTurner

Alopecurus_pratensis_ligule.jpg Ligule.

© SRTurner

Inflorescences - appearing as dense, cylindrical spikes, the short branches appressed to but not fused with the main axis, not apparent at flowering time without dissecting the inflorescence. Inflorescences 2-10 cm long, 5-11 mm wide. Glumes 3.5-6.0 mm long, sharply pointed at the tip, hairy, especially along the midnerve (keel) and lateral nerves.

Alopecurus_pratensis_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Alopecurus_pratensis_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence at anthesis.

© SRTurner

Alopecurus_pratensis_inflorescence3.jpg Inflorescence with exserted styles.

The awns seen in this image attach near the base of the lemmas, not to the glumes.

© DETenaglia

Spikelets - Strongly flattened laterally, disarticulating below the glumes, with 1 perfect floret and without additional staminate or sterile florets. Glumes about as long as the lemma, similar in size and shape, oblong to elliptic-ovate, rounded to sharply pointed at the tip, awnless, usually fused toward the base, strongly keeled and 3-nerved, hairy, at least on the midnerve (keel). Lemma thin and membranous, oblong-elliptic, rounded to sharply pointed at the tip, faintly 3-or 5-nerved, glabrous, with a slender awn 5-10 mm long (extended 2-6 mm past the glumes), attached toward the base of the lemma midnerve, twisted or bent abruptly near the midpoint. Palea absent. Stamens 3, the anthers 1.6-3.5 mm long.

Alopecurus_pratensis_spikelets.jpg Spikelets.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Caryopses 1.5-3.0 mm long.

Flowering - May - August.

Habitat - Pastures, fields, roadsides, moist disturbed grassy areas.

Origin - Native to Eurasia.

Lookalikes - Other members of the genus, also Phleum pratense.

Other info. - This grass species is found in grasslands across much of the continental U.S., especially in the Northwest, though it is still not terribly common in Missouri. From a few feet away it strongly resembles Phleum pratense (timothy), both of which are grown for hay. It is easily distinguished from timothy by a close look at the inflorescence. Spikelets of timothy have a distinctive "horned" appearance, whereas those of Alopecurus are simply tapered to a single sharp point at their apex. Another characteristic feature of this plant is that the relatively soft awns attach near the base of the lemmas.

A stalk of Alopecurus at the proper stage will emit a dense cloud of pollen if jostled. This may contribute to hay fever but the plant is not common enough in our state to be problematic in that respect. The species is sometimes included in seed mixes for hay and forage, and this use probably accounts for much of the material found in the state.

Photographs taken near Labadie, Franklin County, MO, 4-29-2023 (SRTurner).