Alopecurus arundinaceus (Creeping Foxtail)
|Also known as:||Creeping Meadow-Foxtail|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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.
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:
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.
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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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Alopecurus arundinaceus plants
- when mature, the blackish heads stand out
- mature spikelets drop off below the glumes
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?