Ontario Weeds: Foxtail barley

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Flowers and Fruit
  7. Habitat
  8. Similar Species
  9. Caution
  10. Related Links

Name: Foxtail barley, Hordeum jubatum L.,

Other Names: orgequeue d'écureuil, Foxtail, Skunk grass, Skunktail, Squirreltail, Wild barley, orge agréable, queue-d'écureuil, orge sauvage

Family: Grass Family (Gramineae)

General Description: Annual, biennial or usually a short-lived perennial, reproducing only by seed.

Photos and Pictures

Foxtail barley
Foxtail barley
Foxtail barley.
A. Plant.
Foxtail barley - leaf base
B. Leaf-base.  
stem and leaf characteristics of a typical grass
Stem and leaf-base characteristics of a typical grass.
Stems & Roots: Stems 20-60cm (8in.-2ft) high, erect or spreading as a bunch grass from a mass of fibrous roots; stems smooth or slightly rough below; leaves bluish-green to grayish-green, 1.5-4mm (1/16-1/6in.) wide, prominently ribbed and rough on the back; leaf sheath split with overlapping margins; ligule very short, less than 1mm (1/25in.) long; auricles usually absent but occasionally 1 or 2 present.

Flowers & Fruit: Inflorescence (seed head) a dense, unbranched, barley-like spike, 5-12cm (2-5in.) long, with finely barbed, long, green or purplish awns, erect or nodding slightly to one side; turning yellowish or straw-coloured when mature and breaking apart into separate seed-bearing units; each unit having a very sharp point and 7 long, spreading awns. These may be blown by the wind or carried in animal fur, clothing, etc. Flowers from June to October.

Habitat: Foxtail barley is a native grass throughout Canada, chiefly in moist or saline depressions, but it also occurs in cultivated fields, roadsides, waste areas and lawns.

Similar Species: Before heading out, it is distinguished by its bluish to grayish-green colour, its split sheath and its short ligule and by the presence of a very short auricle on some plants. After heading out, the dense 1-sided "foxtail" inflorescence with its long, green or purplish awns is unmistakable.

Caution: When animals walk through or graze in areas containing mature Foxtail barley or eat hay contaminated with the ripe heads of this weed, the sharp-pointed, bristly segments may get into their hair, mouth, nose or eyes. Because these bristles have tiny, forward-pointing barbs, they will only slide in one direction. Motion of the animal's body forces these sharp-pointed segments deeper into the skin causing skin sores, irritation of back of mouth and nasal passages, and sometimes blindness.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

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