Alopecurus arundinaceus

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creeping meadow foxtail

Alopecurus arundinaceus Poir.
  • Occurrence in Alberta – Y
  • NatureServe Rank – Low/Insignificant
  • AB Weed – N


Has been reported spreading from improved pasture to native areas, entirely excluding the native vegetation, and also in ditches in the Edmonton area.

Darbyshire, with reference to meadow foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis, says

A similar Eurasian species, Alopecurus arundinaceus Poir. (creeping foxtail, reed foxtail, vulpin traçant), is becoming a popular forage, particularly in western Canada. As the use of this species as a forage and mitigation grass increases, it can be expected to be found as an adventive in fields, prairies, roadsides and disturbed areas.

Derek Johnson is the author of this key and commentary:

Alopecurus pratensis versus Alopecurus arundinaceus

a) Perennial, 30-110 cm tall, culms tufted, arising from among tussocks of leaves, often tending to root at lowest nodes; ligules of lower leaves 1.5-2(3) mm long, truncate and subentire, ligules of upper culm leaves up to 6 mm long, truncate to obtuse, finely erose or erose-ciliolate and sometimes more or less lacerate; leaf blades glabrous above, scabrous below, 6-40 cm long, (2)4-8 mm wide, upper sheaths not or scarcely inflated; panicle 3-10 cm long, 6-10 mm wide, ends slightly tapered and rounded; spikelets elliptic or oblong-ovate; glumes 4-6 mm long, fused at base for 1/5 to 1/4 of their length, long ciliate on keel and lateral nerves, green to dark-violet, apices acute, parallel or convergent; lemmas 4-6 mm long, subequal to glumes, glabrous or pubescent on keel above, apices acute, awned from about 1 mm above base; awns 5-10.5 mm long, geniculate, exceeding lemmas by (1)2.2-5.5(6) mm; anthers 2.3-3.5(4) mm long ..................................................Alopecurus pratensis(meadow foxtail)

  • Temperate Eurasia; introduced to coastal New England in the U.S. in the 1800's as a forage grass; widely established in North America (known from all provinces and territories in Canada except Nunavut; known from all states in the continental U.S. except Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas); growing in moist meadows, on riverbanks and lake shores, in ditches, cultivated fields, and along fence rows and roadsides (USDA).

b) Perennial, 30-110(120) cm tall, culms mostly solitary from the ends of long rhizomes; ligules 1.3-5 mm long, truncate; leaf blades glabrous above, scabrous below, 6-40 cm long, (3)8-12 mm wide, upper sheaths somewhat inflated; panicle 3-10 cm long, 7-13 mm wide; spikelets more or less urn-shaped; glumes 3.6-5 mm long, fused at base for 1/5 to 1/3 of their length, pale green to lead-gray, strongly keeled, margins and keel ciliate, hairs 1-2 mm long, apices acute, divergent; lemmas 3.1-4.5 mm long, shorter than glumes, usually glabrous, sometimes with scattered hairs near apices, apices obtuse to truncate, awns 1.5-7.7 mm long, geniculate, exceeding lemmas by 0-3 mm (often included); anthers 2.2-3.5 mm long ......................Alopecurus arundinaceus (creeping meadow foxtail)

  • Temperate Eurasia; introduced to North Dakota from the Ukraine in 1902 and Newfoundland (early 1940's) as a forage grass or for revegetation; of scattered distribution in North America; known in Canada from AB, MB, NL and NT (doubtful in SK and apparently extirpated from NL) (Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2007); known in the continental U.S. from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming); growing in similar habitats to meadow foxtail (USDA). Introduced to the western shoreline of Beaverhill Lake by the Alberta Public Lands Division in the 1980's to “improve” the pastureland (Ksenija Vujnovic, pers. com.).

From the literature, it appears that the definitive ways to separate these two species are the elliptic to oblong-ovate spikelets in A. pratensis vs. the urn-shaped spikelets in A. arundinaceus; the parallel or convergent glume apices in A. pratensis vs. the divergent glume apices in A. arundinaceus; the acute apices of the lemmas, subequal to the glumes in A. pratensis vs. the obtuse to truncate apices of the lemmas, shorter than the glumes in A. arundinaceus; and the longer, exserted lemma awns in A. pratensis vs. the shorter, often included lemma awns in A. arundinaceus. Several sources also emphasize the weakly rhizomatous nature of A. pratensis vs. the strongly rhizomatous nature of A. arundinaceus and the usually much narrower leaves in A. pratensis vs. the (2x) broader leaves in A. arundinaceus, but there seems to be overlap in these characters.

The more I saw “creeping meadow foxtail,” the more I wanted to know about it. Where did it come from, how did it get here, and why is it now so common? The first time I knowingly saw the species in Alberta was under the bridge on Whitemud Drive at Rainbow Valley in Edmonton on the 1987 May Species Count (a very early spring). It can still be found there after 25 years. What drew me to the grass initially was that the plants were in flower and I was very surprised that what I thought was Timothy would be flowering in May. I was right; it wasn't Timothy, but what I determined to be meadow foxtail using the Flora or Alberta, which has now proven to be an incorrect determination. It showed up in abundance along Highway 16 around the Wagner Natural Area in the early 1990's after completion of the Villeneuve interchange, which prompted the Wagner Natural Area Society to contact Alberta Transportation and Utilities (now Alberta Infrastructure) to ask if “meadow foxtail” was included in revegetation seed mixtures for highway projects. Their response was that the species is not, nor has it ever been, included in seed mixtures used in highway revegetation projects (Don Snider, pers. com.). The grass still survives along Highway 16 and in a couple of places along the access road to the Natural Area, as well as in one of the restoration fields in the area. Since then, I have seen the species along roadsides as far east as Lloydminster, as far west as Hinton, Fort McMurray in the northeast, Manning in the northwest, and Red Deer in the south. I do not get down the QE II Highway as much as I used to, but I suspect it goes farther south than Red Deer in some roadside ditches. The species is known from Montana to the south. Much to my surprise, it started showing up in some of the clearcuts at the EMEND (Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance) project northwest of Peace River in 2004. I suspect it got there on some logging equipment. Aside from my own collections, there are no Alberta specimens of this grass in ALTA, CAFB, or PMAE. Additional herbaria need to be checked for specimens from Alberta.

Creeping meadow foxtail “is sometimes used in seed mixtures for revegetation projects. It was evaluated for revegetation in Alberta, but there is no evidence that it was ever actually used in that province.” (Flora of North America (2007), Volume 24, p. 782). (Boy, did they ever get that wrong!!!) It is probably established in places in Saskatchewan now too as I saw it along the roadside of Highway 16 just west of Lloydminster in 2003.

I think part of the problem as to why this species is not being noticed more is that almost everybody confuses it with Timothy (Phleum pratense). I have been assisting the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute train their field crews for the past few years at the University of Alberta's Meanook Biological Research Station near Athabasca. There is a lot of Alopecurus arundinaceus in roadside ditches in the area, but when queried, none of the students correctly identified the grass. They all thought it was Timothy. It does look very similar from a distance. This summer (2012) it was extremely abundant in the Athabasca area, even taking over a disused cow pasture near the Research Station. Apparently, it outperforms smooth brome (Bromus inermis) on moist sites (USDA). It may even become a serious competitor for space in moist areas with another aggressive grass, reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), which it is already doing to some extent along the ditch beside the access road to the Wagner Natural Area and in a few wet meadows south of Athabasca. The seeds are small and light, easily spread by wind or water, hence its rapid proliferation along roadsides and waterways.

For a grass, creeping meadow foxtail is a very early flowering species, coming into flower in late May/early June, usually at least three weeks before Timothy starts to flower. With all the highway construction and disturbance going on along the thousands of kilometers of roadside in Alberta, suitable habitat for this species is definitely not at a premium, hence my conclusion as to why it has become so common and widespread in a relatively short time. On the May Species Count in 2011, the roadsides of Highway 16 near the open pit coal mine at Lake Wabamun were covered with it and it was in flower there. It has shown up on and off along the roadside at Hoople Lake, near Entwistle, (another one of my regular May Species Count sites) since 1994. It showed up this year along the new road (2010) built through Clyde Fen to a gravel mining operation (coming right out of the water at the edge of the fen!). This grass has definitely become quite common and is spreading widely and rapidly in central Alberta. The only successful control of it may be a return to the drought of the 1930's (possible with global warming?) as creeping meadow foxtail does not tolerate prolonged dry periods (USDA).


Comments received from Dr. Richard Old:

Alopecurus arundinaceus is commonly sold as "Garrison creeping foxtail" in the U. S. In eastern Washington and northern Idaho (my home range) it is extremely less common than A. pratensis. I can easily spot A. arundinaceus at highway speeds due to the fact that the spikelets turn black at maturity (see attached images). Although it is listed by WSSA, it does not appear in any of the over 60 weed reference books that I cite in my program.[1]

Mature seedhead. Photo: Richard Old
Mature seed. Photo: Richard Old

Ksenija Vujnovic says that she understands that Public Lands seeded this species in 1980s on leased parcels along the western shore of Beaverhill Lake to increase forage production for cattle and to compete with foxtail barley. With recent drought years, the species has expanded heavily onto adjoining dry lakebed. She provided the following photos.

Dry lakebed invaded by A. arundinaceus at Beaverhill Lake Photo: Ksenija Vujnovic
Dry lakebed invaded by A. arundinaceus at Beaverhill Lake Photo: Ksenija Vujnovic
Dry lakebed invaded by A. arundinaceus at Beaverhill Lake Photo: Ksenija Vujnovic
Dry lakebed invaded by A. arundinaceus at Beaverhill Lake Photo: Ksenija Vujnovic
Dry lakebed invaded by A. arundinaceus at Beaverhill Lake Photo: Ksenija Vujnovic


USDA Plants Profile [2]

USDA Plant Guide (PDF) [3]

GRIN Taxonomy [4]

Darbyshire, Stephen J., Inventory of Canadian agricultural weeds [electronic resource], ISBN 0-662-33986-X