Alopecurus arundinaceus (Creeping Foxtail)

Plant Info
Also known as: Creeping Meadow-Foxtail
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; average to moist soil; ditches, meadows, roadsides, floodplains, stream banks
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:12 to 42 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: spike

[photo of mature spike] A single tightly packed, narrowly cylindric, spike-like branching cluster at the top of the stem, ½ to 4 inches long. Spikelets (flower clusters) are 3.5 to 6+ mm (to ~¼ inch) long, flattened, narrowly oblong-elliptic in outline and have a single floret, light to medium green at flowering time. Florets bloom from the top of the spike down, those at the tip of the spike may be forming fruit while those at the base have not yet bloomed.

[close-up of spike] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both similar, fused together on the lower third, 3-veined, long-haired along the keel and edges, sparsely hairy on the surface, 3.5 to 6+ mm long, lance-elliptic with a pointed tip, the tips spreading forming a distinct “M” shape at the tip of the spikelet. Florets are surrounded by a single bract (lemma) slightly shorter than the glumes, 3 to 5-veined, usually hairless, and with an awn arising from the lower third of the midvein, the awn 1.5 to 7.5 mm long, straight or slightly curved and barely extending beyond the tip of the glumes, if at all.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] Leaves are basal and alternate, erect to ascending, 2½ to 16 inches long, 3 to 10 mm (to 3/8 inch) wide, lance-linear, flat or folded lengthwise. Basal leaves are longest; stem leaves are few and much shorter. Sheaths are hairless, the lower tightly wrapping the stem and the upper often inflated and looser, and may be blue-green in color. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is membranous, 1.5 to 5 mm long, straight across or convex at the tip, and not fringed with hairs. Nodes are smooth, green to orange. Stems are hairless and erect, single or a few from the base. Colonies may be formed from creeping rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature spikelet] Spikelets turn blackish at maturity, the entire spikelet shedding as each grain matures, leaving the naked stalks behind. Grains (seeds) are about 1.5 mm long.


Creeping Foxtail is a cool-season, Eurasian species introduced as a forage crop and is occasionally included in revegetation projects for erosion control. It has crept across the Dakota border into Minnesota at least once: a roadside population we happened upon in Polk County, but we have our suspicions it is more widespread than that. The blackish spikes were what caught our eye. We initially thought it might be Timothy (Phleum pratense) with some type of fungal infection but upon closer examination the lemma awns (which Timothy lacks) and softly hairy glumes said otherwise.

There are 4 Alopecurus species known to be in Minnesota, 2 of which are native. At a glance they may all look similar—narrowly cylindric spikes usually blooming (and completely shedding seed) from the top down, single-flowered spikelets usually blackish when mature, hairy glumes equal in size and shape, and lemma awns arising from the lower half of the lemma—but the size of the spikelet combined with length of the awn can help determine a correct ID. Creeping Foxtail has relatively large spikelets (3.5 to 6+ mm long) and short awns that barely extend beyond the tip of the spikelet, if at all. The glume tips are also more widely separated than the other species. Of the other species in Minnesota, Meadow Foxtail (A. pratensis) is the only other with spikelets that large, but it has conspicuously longer awns. Of the other species with short awns, spikelets are rarely more than 3.5 mm long.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Polk County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Rhett Johnson - Cottonwood County
on: 2019-05-29 09:09:32

This species is much more widespread in Minnesota than the distribution map suggests. In recent years I have seen it across southwestern Minnesota in wet to moist pastures and road ditches. It also seems to invade wet prairie communities. It is a very early flowering grass and the dark spike-like inflorescence stands out in May, making it easy to identify even when driving by at highway speeds.

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