Setaria pumila (Yellow Foxtail)

Plant Info
Also known as: Yellow Bristlegrass
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:annual
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; average to dry disturbed soil; fields, roadsides, railroads, waste places, lawns, gardens
Fruiting season:July - October
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU 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: panicle Cluster type: spike

[photo of panicle] A single, densely packed, cylindric, spike-like panicle at the tip of the stem, 1½ to 3 inches long, rarely up to 6 inches. Short branches are densely crowded along the length of the panicle, each branch usually with a single spikelet (flower cluster), sometimes with a second, aborted spikelet. Spikelets are flattened on one side, egg-shaped in outline with a blunt tip, (2)3 to 3.5 mm long, with one fertile and one sterile floret. At the base of a spikelet stalk are 5 to 20 straight bristles each 3 to 12 mm long, about 1 to 3 times as long as the spikelet. Bristles are yellow to golden brown, rarely purplish, and stiff with minute, upward pointing (antrorse) barbs.

[close-up of spikelet and bristles] At the base of each spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are thin with translucent edging, the lower glume broadly egg-shaped with a pointed tip, 3-veined and 1/3 to 2/3 as long as the spikelet, the upper glume nearly round with a blunt to pointed tip, 5 to 7-veined and about half as long as the spikelet. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea). The sterile lemma is like the upper glume except as long and wide as the spikelet; the sterile palea is shorter and may be visible through the translucent lemma. The fertile lemma and palea are both much thicker than the glumes, their surfaces conspicuously covered in cross-wrinkles, and with a distinct swelling at the base. The fertile lemma is oval to egg-shaped, blunt at the tip, (2)3 to 3.5 mm long, and the edges curl around the palea edges; the fertile palea is flat, as long as the lemma and with a similar texture.

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

[photo of leaf hairs] Leaves are alternate, 1½ to 12 inches long, up to 10 mm (to ~3/8 inch) wide, lance-linear, and flat though may be loosely spirally twisted. The upper surface is sparsely covered in long, white hairs near the base.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath is open, green, hairless, without a fringe of hairs along the edge. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is up to 1 mm long and fringed with short hairs. Nodes are hairless and green to purplish. Stems are smooth, erect to ascending, the lower stem often prostrate then rising at the lower node (geniculate), but not rooting at the node. Stems are multiple and branching from the base, forming loose to dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of maturing spikelets and mature florets] The glumes and sterile lemma turn tan and papery as they mature, the fertile lemma and palea hardening and turning darker brown. The entire spikelet drops off when mature, leaving the bristles behind on the stem.


Yellow Foxtail, known as Setaria glauca or Setaria lutescens in older references, is a common weedy grass of disturbed areas throughout Minnesota, including lawns and gardens. It is easily distinguished from other Foxtails by the numerous stiff, spreading yellow to tawny bristles on the panicle, upper glumes about half as long as the spikelet, and the sparse long hairs on leaves near the base. There are 2 recognized subspecies, both of which have been found in Minnesota: subsp. pumila is most common, widespread throughout the state, and generally described above; subsp. pallidefusca (formerly Setaria pallide-fusca), to-date only recorded in Anoka County, is not well documented but may have smaller spikelets (2 to 2.5 mm vs. 3 to 3.5 mm) and reddish bristles rather than golden.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Hennepin and Ramsey counties.


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

Posted by: Mark Kelsey - Excelsior
on: 2020-08-28 19:31:09

We live on the East side of a marsh and have are surrounded by foxtail. Our lawn guy has done a pretty good job of getting it under control, but it is so invasive and would love to know of any additional measures I can take to control it.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-08-29 06:22:57

Mark, this is an annual so reproduces strictly by seed and you'll probably have a seed bank to contend with for a number of years to come. You can pull it out as it emerges, or try a pre-emergent chemical, but that will also inhibit germination of seeds for other species that you may want to keep. FWIW, I'm dealing with my own infestation and am going through the same pains, pulling it out wherever I see it emerging. It's an ongoing battle.

Posted by: Molly - Wooded homestead in St louis County
on: 2023-09-09 10:19:51

Is this the plant that is very dangerous to dogs and cats because of seeds that dig in and do not break down when eaten? Vet MD lists foxtail as dangerous without delineating varieties.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-09 10:48:30

Molly, Minnesota Wildflowers does not have any information concerning foxtail and dogs. Check with your own vet for more information.

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