Alopecurus pratensis

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Author: TunyaLee Morisawa, Global Invasive Species Team, The Nature Conservancy

A. pratensis
Scientific Name
Alopecurus pratensis
Common Names
meadow foxtail, common foxtail

General Description

Alopecurus pratensis has short rhizomes. Tufts can be loose or compact with erect, flat leafblades standing 30-80 cm tall. The leaves are narrow (2-6 mm wide). The plants are bisexual.[1] Flowers are produced from about May through June and produce copious amounts of fluffy seed. Seedheads are similar to timothy hay but are smaller. If temperatures are not too low, the grass will stay green and continue to grow over winter.

Stewardship summary

Meadow foxtail is primarily cultivated as a meadow or pasture grass, used for hay in the wetlands of Europe, sown for grass in southern Canada and in the Pacific regions of the United States. Practically all seeds for domestic use are collected in the mountainous meadows of Oregon. Since the 1940s, A. pratensis has grown in importance as a grazing grass in Canada, the U.S., and Japan.

Natural history

Cultivation of meadow foxtail has occurred for as long as 250 years. Alopecurus pratensis was brought to North America in the late 1800s by an immigrant from eastern Europe.[2] Now a perennial bunchgrass naturalized throughout the temperate regions in the world, A. pratensis is well adapted to such areas as the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. In the U.S. this plant can be found from Alaska, south into Delaware, Missouri, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. A native of northern Europe, northern Asia and south to North Africa, this grass is one of the earliest spring producers in the U.K.

Meadow foxtail is tolerant of a range of environmental conditions and grows well in areas with 35-176 cm of annual precipitation, at temperatures ranging from 4.4-14.8°C, and pH’s ranging from 4.5-7.5. Alopecurus pratensis can be grown in USDA zones 4-9. Although A. pratensis is tolerant of cold and high temperatures, it grows best in shady, cool, moist, temperate areas on deep, fertile soils. Alopecurus pratensis can endure flooding by fresh or brackish water and is often described as a facultative wetland species. Meadow foxtail can be found in fields, grasslands and even waste places where it provides food and cover for wildlife.


Mechanical Control

No information about pulling was found in the literature. However, the plant does have a short, non-aggressive root system and so pulling by hand or with tools may be possible.

Flooding of the area does not seem to be an option because the grass readily endures periods of flooding by fresh or brackish water. A study in Iceland observed that the percentage of Alopecurus geniculatus in a mixed grassland increased as the soil moisture increased. Alopecurus geniculatus was also found more often on bog soils than andosoils or sandy soils.[3]

Alopecurus pratensis is somewhat drought tolerant however, if the soil moisture is low the grass remains short and the leaf tissue suffers heavily from desiccation. However, it was observed that these plants produced more seed heads.[4]


Alopecurus pratensis has been grown as a forage crop and so cutting and grazing may provide little control. As meadow foxtail matures, it becomes less palatable to cattle and other grasses tend to be eaten.[2] However, in Iceland early spring grazing decreased the percentage of A. pratensis in a mixed species grass field.[3]

Chemical Control

Research done in the 1970s found that glyphosate (1.0 kg/ha) applied in August provided 100% reduction of A. pratensis in a mixed sward.[5] Other research demonstrated that there was some toxicity to A. pratensis from dicamba. Dicamba was applied at 1.5 kg (no acreage was listed for the sprayed sites). 2,4-D amine (3 kg/ha) and 2,4-D butyl ester (2 kg/ha) did little damage to meadow foxtail.[6] Steve Hart, a weed specialist at Rutgers Cooperative Extension, suggested applying herbicides to A. pratensis late summer to early fall and before tillering of the plant occurs. Hart suggested the use of the herbicides sethoxidon and fluazifop. Use an oil adjuvent and non-ionic surfactant with sethoxidon to enhance plant absorption. Do not apply fluazifop near water as it can be toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Information sources


  1. Cheng, C.F. 1946. Self-fertility studies in three species of commercial grasses. Journal of the American Society of Agronomy 38(10):873-881.
  2. Kline, P., K. Broersma, S.B.M. Wright and L.M. Rode. 1993. Meadow foxtail a production guide.Agriculture Canada Publication No. 1890-E, 22pp. 2.0 2.1
  3. Thorvaldsson, G. Botanical Composition of Icelandic Grass Fields. Acta Agric. Scandinavica Section B Soil and Plant Science, v.46, n.2, 1996:121-127. 3.0 3.1
  4. Fairey, N.A. 1991. Effects of nitrogen fertilizer, cutting frequency, and companion legume on herbage production and quality of four grasses. Can. J. Plant Sci. 71:717-725.
  5. Oswald, A.K. 1976. The effects of seasonal applications of glyphosate on a mixed sward. Proceedings 1976 British Crop Protection Conference - Weeds.
  6. Morozova, I.K. and T.P. Gladkova. 1978. The influence of herbicides on the pasture quality of a natural meadow. Khimiya v Selskom Khozyaistve 16(2):44-47.

Source document

Weed Notes: Alopecurus pratensis; TunyaLee Morisawa, 1999.

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