Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis L.)

Common Name: Meadow Foxtail

Scientific Name: Alopecurus pratensis L.


Family: Poaceae


Origin: Meadow foxtail is native to temperate Europe and Asia. It has been widely used as a hay grass for wetlands in Europe since 1750.

Time of introduction:


Meadow foxtail is a less desirable grass, adapted to wet soils that are subject to frequent and/or prolonged flooding. It produces less forage than other grasses and is tolerant of frost and prolonged snow cover in high altitude areas. Meadow foxtail is very undesirable in seed producing areas as its seed is extremely difficult to separate from some of the important seed crops. Because of this, it is not recommended in the main floor of the Willamette Valley or in other seed-producing areas. It has good flood tolerance

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):

Growth habit & Regrowth type:

Invasive potential:



Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Meadow Foxtail photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is:

The direct URL for Meadow Foxtail is:

Inflorescence: The inflorescence of a meadow foxtail plant is a spike-like panicle that is so compact that it looks like a spike. It is a lot like timothy, but has a bearded or fuzzy look like a fox's tail. The panicle is about 1-2 in. (1-5 cm). A close up of the spikelets show glumes that are sharp, ending with a point and hairy on the keel (fold). The lemmas are broad, more or less united at the base and they produce an awn that is bent and about 1/8 in. (3 mm). This bent awn gives the panicle a fuzzy or bearded look. Meadow foxtail inflorescence image.


Seed: Meadow foxtail seeds are difficult to handle. The seed is very light, and the bent awns make cleaning difficult. They are whitish, gray in color with some tan streaks. They are larger than many seeds of grass species but very light. The general appearance is fluffy and therefore they can be differentiated from many other seeds. The long awn is bent making the individual seeds and the entire inflorescence look fuzzy. Meadow foxtail seed image.

Stem: The stem of the meadow foxtail plant grows to 3 feet. It has a few short, glabrous (hairless) rhizomes. Tillers are rounded in appearance. Some differentiate meadow foxtail from timothy by noting that meadow foxtail has fewer leaves. The general appearance of the plant at maturity (reproductive stage) shows a tall plant, a cylindrical fuzzy-looking seed head, and few leaves. (Some varieties have been bred to have more leaves and therefore more feed value.)

Leaf: The leaves of meadow foxtail are 3-5 in. (7-13 cm) in length and 1/16 to 1/8 in. (2-3 mm) in width. The leaves are dark green and show distinct ribs on the upper surface. The lower surface is dull. Leaf buds are rolled in the bud. The sheaths are open, sometimes reddish and turn more brownish with age. They are smooth and hairless (glabrous). Meadow foxtail has been said to have few leaves adn therefore less feed value than other grass species. Some plant breeders have worked on varieties that have more leaves. Meadow foxtail leaves image.

Collar: Meadow foxtail's collar region has no auricles, a ligule that is membraneous (more than just hairs),and is built up and squarish (truncated). The sheath is open, rather loose looking and upper sheaths look a little inflated. They can be a little reddish but often turn brownish with age. Meadow foxtail collar image.

Root: Meadow foxtail has short rhizomes that produces a dense sod in older stands.

Physiology and growth period:
Meadow foxtail starts growth early in the spring about the earliest of all cultivated moistland grasses.

Reproduction is propogated by seed.

Quality/anti-quality factors:

Anti-Quality Factors

The light, feathery seed of meadow foxtail is difficult to harvest, as well as plant. Seed must be mixed with a carrier such as cracked corn or rice hulls. Meadow foxtail has weak, slowly-developing seedlings. It is quite intolerant of drought and prolonged periods of hot, dry weather. It survives in areas of moderate moisture, but is a poor forage producer under those conditions.



Meadow foxtail does best where the climate is moist and cool; however, it is not sensitive to heat and cold, surviving in areas with summer temperatures at or above 100 F (38 C), or in areas with winter temperatures consistently below zero. It does well at high elevations where frost can occur any month of the year. It is well adapted to peaty soils or soils with a high water table. This grass will also survive on clay or loam soils in areas of high rainfall or where irrigation or subirrigation is available. Meadow foxtail will tolerate moderate amounts of acidity or alkalinity.

Suitability zones:
Meadow foxtail is adapted to wet meadows from the central US to the Pacific Northwest.



Quantitiative Table:

Max Temp (C)
Min Temp (C)
Precip (mm)
Soil pH Soil Drainage
Soil Salinity
Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High
Well Adapted
1. For the High values for January Minimum temperature and Annual Precipitation: "9999 is entered to indicate no limit to the high values for this tolerance category."
2. For Soil Drainage categories, " Abbreviations are used for Soil Drainage categories: VPD (very poorly drained), PD (poorly drained), SPD (somewhat poorly drained), MWD (moderately well drained), WD (well drained), SED (somewhat excessively drained), ED (excessively drained)."

Climate: Meadow foxtail is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3.5 to 17.6 dm and annual temperature of 40 to 59 F (4.4-14.8 C). It is adapted to cool, moist temperate climates, very resistant to cold, but will also withstand high summer temperatures. Meadow foxtail grows best on deep, moist, fertile soils. It will withstand flooding by fresh or brackish water. It Does well under shade, as in orchards, growing well under irrigation, it is not drought resistant.

Soils: Meadow foxtail can tolerate a ph of 4.5 to 7.5. It grows best on deep, moist, fertile soils.

Grazing Management: When meadow foxtail is used as a pasture grass, a rotational grazing system is best. Since it is not as palatable as some other grasses, heavy grazing pressure for short periods results in best utilization. The early maturing characteristic of meadow foxtail can be offset somewhat by early cutting or grazing. If used as a hay crop, meadow foxtail should be cut as early as possible in May, since early cut hay is much higher in quality than more mature late cut hay.

Turf Management: Not typically used as a turf species.

Pests: Diseases: Generally not serious. Can have problems with white leaf stripe, leaf streak, anthracnose, black stem rust, leaf rust, and downy mildew.

Pests: Insects:

Pests: Nematodes:


No specific varieties have been examined for use in Oregon, as practically all seed is harvested from naturalized stands in Oregon. However, Garrison, an improved stolonaceous variety, has been evaluated in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. It was found to be a vigorous creeping meadow foxtail.


Meadow foxtail has a light, fluffy seed, so seeding is normally done by broadcast methods. The seed is very difficult to drill unless mixed with rice hulls or other seeds. Either early spring or late fall seeding is acceptable. In areas too wet for preparing a seedbed, seeding should be followerd by rolling the soil. Areas previously prepared for seeding can be harrowed or rolled to improve soil/seed contact.

Seeding rate:

Seeding depth:

Fertilization and liming:
High, split N, needs P & Potash If meadow foxtail is planted in combination with a legume, no nitrogen fertilizer is needed for high levels of production. However, application of 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre in early spring will result in more rapid spring growth. When meadow foxtail is used as a hay crop withough a legume, nitrogen will be needed for satisfactory production. The use of 100 to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre in split applications is the most efficient practice.


Forage, pasture, hay, silage, conservation

Seed crop:
Most of the seed production and use of this grass is in Oregon. However, it can be grown on any site on which creeping foxtail is adapted. Because of the light, fluffy seed and the indeterminate seed ripening, seed production is quite difficult. Seed should be harvested when seeds begin to shatter from the tips of the seed heads. Strippers can be run through the field every two to three days as the seed continues to mature. Combining from a windrow is the most common method of harvest. The wind on the combine must be minimized by covering the openings on the fan housing or inactivating the fan. Seed must be run through a hammermill or debearder prior to clean-ing. Seed production is between 200 and 400 pounds per acre depending upon seed recovery success. Seed production responds significantly to nitrogen fertilization.

Meadow foxtail is primarily a pasture grass. Where adapted, it produces over a long grazing season. Palatability as either pasture or hay is excellent. As pasture it often is seeded with big trefoil or ladino clover. Since 1940 it has increased in importance and use in this country.

Meadow foxtail can be used for hay, but its forage yields are lower than can be expected from reed canarygrass and timothy. Lodging can be a problem with this grass. This species, like creeping foxtail, is earlier growing than most grasses, and is ready for hay harvest in mid-June. Regrowth after cutting is very rapid, resulting sometimes in two or three cuttings in one year. This grass has also been harvested as silage, and the regrowth grazed.

Erosion Control/Conservation:

Wildlife habitat and feed:

Not typically used as a turf species.

Economic value:

Nearly all of the meadow foxtail seed production is from _____. Approximately _____acres produce a seed yield of ____million pounds, with a farmgate value of $_____. Wholesale value is $_____and retail value is $______.

More than ____hectares (approximately _____acres) of meadow foxtail pastures are used in the ____.

The meadow foxtail forage value can be estimated by multiplying an average yield (___ tons per acre) times the estimated value of each ton of dry matter ($____ per ton) times the acreage (_____ million acres). This yields an estimated value of $______.

Soil and water conservation:
"Green accounting" is difficult; what is the value of conserving a pound of topsoil or filtering the water from agricultural lands prior to entry in streams, rivers, and lakes? Extensive use of meadow foxtail as a construction site quick covering plant contribute significantly to soil and water conservation

Not typically used as a turf species.


  1. Duke, James A. 1983. Alopecurus pratensis L. Handbook of Energy Crops. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products. Available at (verified 22 July 2004).
  2. Hannaway, David B. and William S. McGuire. 1981. Growing Meadow Foxtail for Forage. Oregon State University Extension Service. Available at (verified 22 July 2004).
  3. Jacques, D. 2002. The identification of certain native and naturalized grasses by their vegetative characters. Canadian Agriculture Library (CAL) [Online]. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  4. Schwendiman, John L. and Virgil B. Hawk. 1973. Forages: The Science of Grassland Agriculture: Other Grasses for the North and West. Third Edition. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa. 22:231-242.
  5. Smoliak, S., R.L. Ditterline, J.D. Scheetz, L.K. Holzworth, J.R. Sims, L.E. Wiesner, D.E. Baldridge, and G.L. Tibke. Meadow Foxtail. Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook. Montana State University Extension Service. Bozeman, Montana. Available at (verified 22 July 2004).
  6. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online}. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  7. Voigt, Paul W. and W. Curtis Sharp. 1995. Forages Volume 1: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture: Grasses of the Plains and Southwest. Fifth Edition. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa. 31:404.

David B. Hannaway and Daniel Myers, Oregon State University

Document creation:
17 June 04

Last update:
26 July 04


Review date: