Comprehensive DescriptionRead full entry
General: Grass Family (Poaceae). Creeping foxtail is a large, long-lived, rhizomatous, sod-forming, perennial grass introduced from Eurasia.
Culms are tall (5 to 12 dm) and stout (~8 mm). Cauline leaves are numerous, flat and green, mostly 6 to 8 mm (12), glabrous above and scabrous beneath. The membranous ligule is 1 to 5 mm long and is rounded to acute.
The inflorescence is a spike-like, cylindrical panicle, typically 4 to 10 cm long and around 8 mm thick, turning purplish or black with maturity. It has a very similar appearance to the seedheads of timothy, but creeping foxtail heads turn the dark colors described above with maturity and Timothy seedheads turn a brownish – buff color.
Individual spikelets are single flowered and urn-shaped (4 to 5 mm long, 1 to 1.5 mm wide). The glumes are fused basally and are strongly keeled with a ciliate margin, the hairs 1 to 2 mm. Lemmas are typically shorter than the glumes and may bear a straight to geniculate awn (1 to 2 mm) arising from below to slightly above mid-length. Anthers are usually purple but are occasionally yellow or orange.
Anthesis occurs early in the season. Seed maturation begins at the top of the inflorescence and proceeds downward. Spikelets disarticulate below the glumes with the spikelet falling as a single unit.
Creeping foxtail should not be confused with other grass species that share the common name foxtail. Creeping foxtail is a close relative of meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) and can be distinguished by having broader leaves (8-12 mm vs. 4-8 mm) and a dark purplish inflorescence. There are also many weedy species that bear the name foxtail, i.e. foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) and green foxtail (Setaria viridis). These may occupy the same habitats as creeping foxtail, but bear little or no resemblance.
Distribution: This species is native to the colder regions of Europe and Asia. It ranges naturally from the British Isles in the west to Siberia in the east going as far south as Turkey and Italy and possibly China.
Records indicate that creeping foxtail was introduced into the United States around the end of the 19th century. At the time, it was little used by farmers who lacked the specialized equipment to plant and harvest its small fluffy seeds. With the advent of more advanced machinery in the 1930’s and 40’s, it became more widely used in forage practices.
Presently, it is most commonly utilized throughout the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, Northern Great Plain States and western Canada. It is projected that creeping foxtail could be used as far east as the New England states.
For more information on distribution, please consult the plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.