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Meadow Foxtail - Alopecurus pratensis

Grass of the Month for May

   In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, CEL website features a different British Grass each month - Follow these pages and you will be come an expert in grasses too. well, a little more knowledgeable maybe!!

1: January - Reed Canary Grass - Phalaris arundinacea
2: February - The Common Reed - Phragmites australis
3: March - Blue Moor-grass Sesleria caerulea
4: April - Sweet Vernal Grass - Anthoxanthum odoratum
5: May - Meadow Foxtail - Alopecurus pratensis
6: June - Quaking Grass - Briza media
7: July- Timothy Grass - Phleum pratense
8: August - Common Bent - Agrostis capillaris


"Is it Meadow Foxtail or is it Timothy?"

Grasses with cylindrical flower heads, in meadows and hedgerows lead to this question.

Answer: "If the month is May - it is Meadow Foxtail." Easy.

Meadow Foxtail comes into flower at the beginning of May.
It can sometimes beat Sweet Vernal-grass into being the first grass to flower.

If it is late June or July you have to look a bit harder.
By then Timothy (also known as Cat's-tail) has also come into flower.

Foxtail's head is more rounded.

Timothy has a head that is abruptly cut off at the top and bottom so the silhouette is more rectangular,

Foxtail's head appears furry.

Timothy's head is stiffer.

Scrape off an individual spikelet from the head and the difference is clear.

Foxtail has one hair (2mm long) per spikelet.

Timothy has two "horns".


But how do you recognise them if they are not in flower?

- Both are medium big hedgerow plants, with the emerging leaf rolled as it comes out of the top sheath.
- Both do not have auricles and are hairless, and do not have rhizomes..

First I eliminate all the other medium big hedgerow possibilities that also have the emerging leaf rolled -

  • Reed Canary-grass is huge and has rhizomes so would occur in patches.
  • Couch-grass has auricles (little earlike projections at the base of the blade) and is hairy
  • The big Festucas are shiny bright green and have auricles
  • False Oat-grass is usually hairy and the blade bases are uneven. And if you pull it up it has knobbly shoot bases with flecks of rusty orange where the roots emerge.
  • The Bents are much smaller grasses.

That leaves Foxtail and Timothy.

  • Timothy has leaves that are slightly wider,
  • whiter and
  • more succulent than the other hedgerow grasses,
  • and its blades spiral on their own axes.
  • When held to the light the veins make a fancy pattern with some much whiter than others.

And Foxtail? - Well its leaves are just boring. When held to the light the blades have a simple light dark light dark repeated pattern, as do most grasses

True, when almost in flower, the Alopecurus top sheath is inflated and has a whitish waxy bloom, which is quite striking - but at that stage you can recognise it by flower anyway. How do you recognise younger shoots?.

You can get more information if you pull up the shoot to get the very base of the shoot, where the roots emerge.

  • Timothy's shoot bases are swollen like an onion,
  • and are white/pale fawn colour.

Foxtail's shoot bases are not swollen.
-Dark brown dead sheath bases cover the very base of the Foxtail shoots, where the roots emerge.or dark purple brown.
-Purple red colour sometimes is the colour of the live sheaths two cm up from the base.


Habitat: Meadow Foxtail is found in species Rich Water Meadows and so gives its name to the National Vegetation Classification Type MG4: Alopecurus pratensis - Sanguisorba officinalis grassland- Meadow foxtail- Greater Burnet grassland. However it grows in upland haymeadows too, and in Hedgerows.




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