Hordeum jubatum (Foxtail Barley)

Plant Info
Also known as: Squirrel-tail Grass, Squirrel-tail Barley
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:short-lived perennial
Habitat:sun; average to moist soil; roadsides, waste places, fields, marsh edges, sloughs
Fruiting season:June - August
Plant height:8 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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: spike

[photo of spikelet clusters] A single, densely packed, nodding to arching spike 2 to 4 inches long at the tip of the stem, with a group of 3 spikelets (flower clusters) at each node. Each spikelet has a single floret and is whitish green to purplish at flowering time. The lateral spikelets are sterile and short-stalked, the center spikelet fertile and stalkless.

[close-up of mature spikelets] At the base of each spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are 1 to 3½ inches long, not much broadened at the base and essentially just a long, rough awn, initially erect and straight, becoming spreading with maturity. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the fertile lemma narrowly lance-elliptic, 4 to 8.5 mm long with a rough awn up to 3½ inches long, the awn erect to ascending; the fertile palea is about as long as the lemma and not awned. Sterile lemma are smaller with shorter awns and are often reduced to just a bristle.

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

[photo of a hairy leaf] Leaves are alternate, 2 to 6 inches long, up to 5 mm wide, rough textured to softly hairy, flat or rolled up along the edge (involute), and green to blue-green.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath is open, green with pale, translucent edging, the edges overlapping near the tip, usually hairless, sometimes hairy. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is .2 to .8 mm long, more or less straight across, and hairless. Nodes are hairless and brown to purplish. Stems are unbranched, smooth, erect or the lower stem prostrate then rising at the lower node (geniculate). Stems are multiple from the base and form loose to dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature seedhead] Spikelets turn tan as they mature, the glumes curving outward near the base as they dry, with the straight awns giving the cluster a spiky bottle-brush appearance. The entire group of 3 spikelets drops off when mature, leaving a naked stem behind. Grains (seeds) are oval-elliptic and smooth except for short hairs at the tip.


Foxtail Barley is a common grass of disturbed soils, seen on seasonally wet shores and banks, old fields and roadsides, often in saline soil. Even though it is considered by some to be a weedy species, the flowering spikes are actually quite attractive, silky and waving in the slightest breeze. Later in the season, the dried seed head takes on a very different look, though still quite interesting I think - Squirrel-tail and Foxtail are both appropriate common names. It is not easily confused with any other grass in Minnesota. There are 2 subspecies: subsp. intermedium present to our west in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, has awns not more than 35 mm (~1 1/3 inch) long, and subsp. jubatum, common throughout much of North America, with awns not less than 35 mm long.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Pennington and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in various locations across Minnesota.


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

Posted by: Deborah Goschy - Eagle Lake
on: 2018-07-27 23:00:47

I have seen this grass growing alongside the railroad tracks near downtown Mankato.

Posted by: Mary - no where I hope!
on: 2020-07-25 13:13:01

Could you address the dog injury question regarding Hordeum marinum and our local foxtail? I don't believe H. marium can over winter here but I am insure. Thank you!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-25 15:09:59

Mary, H. marinum is not known to be in Minnesota. We are not aware of any dog injury questions related to this grass specifically, but it is our understanding that awned grasses in general can be problematic for dogs and/or livestock.

Posted by: Mitzi Magid - Wayzata
on: 2024-06-10 15:49:40

We did a large bluestem and blu grama seed planting in August. It was unsuccessful, however, a full crop of Foxtail Barley came in. Do I need to eradicate this and start over? I am in Minnesota.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2024-06-10 16:59:25

Mitzi, perhaps the site wasn't adequately prepped, or the Hordium seed was also in the mix. In any case, I would check with whoever sold you the seed.

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