Holcus lanatus (common velvet grass)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Soil Tolerances
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Holcus lanatus L.
Preferred Common Name
- common velvet grass
Other Scientific Names
- Aira holcus-lanata Vill.
- Aira holcus-lanatus (L.) Vill.
- Avena lanata (L.) Cav.
- Avena lanata (L.) Koeler
- Avena pallida Salisb.
- Ginannia lanata (L.) F.T. Hubb.
- Ginannia pubescens Bubani
- Holcus aestivalis Jord. & Fourr.
- Holcus argenteus C. Agardh ex Roem. & Schult.
- Holcus glaucus Willk.
- Holcus grurnosus Sennen
- Holcus intermedius Krock.
- Holcus lanatus f. albovirens
- Holcus lanatus f. viviparus Cheshm.
- Holcus lanatus subsp. glaucus (Willk.) Rivas Mart.
- Holcus lanatus subsp. tuberosus (Salzm. ex Trin.) M.Seq. & Castrov.
- Holcus lanatus subsp. vaginatus (Willk. ex Pérez Lara) M.Seq. & Castrov.
- Holcus lanatus subvar. altissimus Coss.
- Holcus lanatus var. albovirens [Invalid] Junge
- Holcus lanatus var. altissimus (Coss.) Maire
- Holcus lanatus var. soboliferus Duwensee
- Holcus lanatus var. tuberosus Salzm. ex Trin.
- Holcus lanatus var. tuberosus Sennen & Mauricio
- Holcus lanatus var. vaginatus Willk. ex Pérez Lara
- Holcus mollis L.
- Holcus muticus Kunze
- Holcus oriolis Sennen & Gonzalo
- Holcus tuberosus Salzm. ex Trin.
- Nothoholcus lanatus (L.) Nash
- Notholcus lanatus (L.) Nash ex Hitchc.
- Notholcus lanatus (L.) Nash ex Hitchc.
International Common Names
- English: common velvet grass; common velvetgrass; common velvet-grass; creeping soft grass; fog grass; meadow softgrass; soft meadow grass; soft-meadow grass; velvet grass; velvetgrass; woolly soft grass; Yorkshire fog; Yorkshire-fog
- Spanish: grama vellosa; heno blanco; holco velloso; pasto velludo
- French: foin de mouton; heno blanco; holoque laineuse; houlque laineuse; houlque velue
- Chinese: rong mao cao
Local Common Names
- Spanish: erva-major
- Belgium: gestreepte witbol
- Faroe Islands: ullhaert legugras
- Germany: Wolliges Honiggras
- Italy: erba bambagiona
- Japan: shiragegaya
- Korea, Republic of: udanpul
- Portugal: erva-lanar
- Sweden: luddtatel; luddtåtel
- USA: meadow soft grass; mesquite grass; tufted grass
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
In northern Europe, H. lanatus is a common native grass which forms part of the sward of many pastures. It produces abundant seed and can readily colonize bare soil and disturbed ground (Beddows, 1961). It has been a common contaminant of grass crops grown for seed (Thompson and Turkington, 1988) and has unintentionally introduced to North America (Canada, Mexico and the USA), Australia, New Zealand and the Faroe Islands in forage seed mixtures and seed exchange. It has also been introduced to South Africa, Réunion, China, India, Hawaii and South America, and is invasive in and is invasive in Hawaii, North America, South America, Australia and East Asia. In North America it is listed as a noxious weed in six states (USDA-ARS, 2013) and as a priority noxious weed in Yosemite National Park, due to it altering the parks native plant assemblage. H. lanatus is also listed in the USA as invasive by the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC, 2006) and in Hawaii in HEAR (1999).
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Holcus
- Species: Holcus lanatus
DescriptionTop of page
H. lanatus is a hairy, tufted, fibrous-rooted, perennial grass that grows between 50-100 cm tall (Beddows, 1961; Stace, 1997). The seed head (panicle) is often purplish and ranges from spike-like (compressed against the stem) in the spring to more open later in the season. The soft velvety leaves are the most consistent feature for identification of H. lanatus.
The following description is taken from Wagner et al. (1999):
Perennials; culms 30-60 cm tall, velvety canescent. Sheaths 6-12 cm long, striate, velvety canescent; ligule membranous, 1-2 mm long, narrowly lacerate, with short hairs at apex; blades 10-20 cm long, 4-8 mm wide, velvety canescent, the midrib prominent. Inflorescences silvery to purplish, paniculate, contracted, sometimes almost spike-like, 8-15 cm long, occasionally enclosed within the uppermost sheath; spikelets 4-4.5 mm long, short-pedicellate; glumes 4-4.5 mm long, keeled, the keels hirsute, otherwise scabrous, first glume 1-nerved, 0.5-0.7 mm wide from keel to margin, second glume 3-nerved, 1-1.2 mm wide from keel to margin; lemma of perfect floret ca. 2 mm long, rather broad, slightly keeled, the keel hirtellous, lemma of staminate floret 2-2.5 mm long, narrow, acute, indistinctly keeled, the keel minutely hirtellous, apex with a hooked awn ca. 1.5 mm long; palea 1.7-2 mm long, minutely hirtellous at apex. Caryopsis pale brown, fusiform, ca. 1.6 mm long, laterally compressed, trigonous, with an adaxial groove.
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
H. lanatus is native to Europe, where it is very common throughout temperate regions. It is also native to the Caucasus and western Asia, northwestern Africa and the Canary and Madeira Islands (US Forest Service, 2013).
H. lanatus has been unintentionally introduced to North America (Canada, Mexico and the USA), Australia, New Zealand and the Faroe Islands in forage seed mixtures and seed exchange. It has also been introduced to South Africa, Réunion, East Asia, India, Hawaii and South America.
In North America H. lanatus has a widespread distribution, particularly on the west and east coasts, becoming less common inland and in arid regions. It is reported as 'essentially absent' from the Great Plains of USA and absent from the praires of Canada (Thompson and Turkington, 1988; US Forest Service, 2013). For a detailed description of the distribution of H. lanatus in North America, please see US Forest Service.
H. lanatus is also widely distributed in Hawaii except for drier areas.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Mauritius||Present||Introduced||Mauritius and Rodrigues|
|French Southern Territories||Present|
|China||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Both invasive and cultivated. 'Open ground, meadows, moist places; an adventive occaisionally cultivated as a meadow grass'|
|-Jiangxi||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Both invasive and cultivated|
|-Yunnan||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Both invasive and cultivated|
|Taiwan||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Both invasive and cultivated; habitat: ‘open ground, meadows, moist places; an adventive occasionally cultivated as a meadow grass’|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Present||Native|
|Denmark||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Olsen and jensen (1969)|
|Faroe Islands||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Noted intentional & unintentional introductions|
|Finland||Present||Introduced||Original citation: Daisie (2012)|
|Iceland||Present||Introduced||Original citation: Daisie (2012)|
|-Azores||Present||Introduced||Original citation: Daisie (2012)|
|-Madeira||Present||Introduced||Original citation: Daisie (2012)|
|United Kingdom||Present, Widespread||Native||Native plant that is part of native assemblage. Indicates poor understocked grazing fields|
|-Newfoundland and Labrador||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Mexico||Present||Introduced||Baja California, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Michoacan, Puebla, Veracruz|
|Panama||Present||Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-District of Columbia||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Hawaii||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Invasive on Hawaii (Big Island), Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu|
|Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Introduced as part of forage mixture|
|-New South Wales||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|New Zealand||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Introduced as part of forage mixture; found in 'roadsides, waste land, pasture and grassland, along tracks or streams in forest, often in damp or swampy ground; sea level to montane, rarely subalpine'|
|-Kermadec Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||'Roadsides, waste land, pasture and grassland, along tracks or streams in forest, often in damp or swampy ground; sea level to montane, rarely subalpine'|
|Argentina||Present||Introduced||Buenos Aires, Chaco, Chabut, Falklands, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego|
|Bolivia||Present||La Paz, Cochabamba|
|Brazil||Present||Introduced||Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Sao Paulo|
|Chile||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Both invasive and cultivated|
|Ecuador||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Azuay, Bolivar, Canar, Carchi, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Imbabura, Napo, Pastaza, Pichincha, Tungurahua|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
H. lanatus is thought to have been introduced to North America several times. It was probably first introduced to New England, USA, in the 17th century. It was present in Pennsylvania, USA, by 1755 and common by 1814. By 1800 it was present in several parts of the USA. The first collected H. lanatus from Hawaii was in 1909 (US Forest Service, 2013).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
H. lanatus has been deliberately planted to stabilize land, both in wetlands to produce wet pasture and to assist in matting soil together due to its dense surface roots. It is also a common contaminant of grass crops grown for seed (Thompson and Turkington, 1988).
HabitatTop of page
H. lanatus has a wide climatic range and is commonly found on pasture, roadsides, waste ground and open woodland. Within its native range it is adapted to growing in wet conditions and is found in fen-meadow communities, poorly drained and water-logged soils and low-fertility and nutrient-rich soils, pastures and meadows. It occurs over a wide range of soil types (Thompson and Thompson, 1988). In the UK it has been recorded up to 600 m above sea level (Salisbury, 1961).
In its introduced range in New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand, its habitat has been described as ‘roadsides, waste land, pasture and grassland, along tracks or streams in forest, often in damp or swampy ground; sea level to montane, rarely subalpine' (PIER, 2013).
In China and Taiwan, PIER (2013) lists its habitat as open ground, meadows and moist places.
In North America, H. lanatus becomes less common inland and in drier habitats, and is ‘noticeably absent’ from the prairies of Canada (Thompson and Turkington, 1988) and largely absent from the Great Plains in the USA (US Forest Service, 2013). In Canada, Thompson and Turkington (1988) described H. lanatus as a ‘weedy invader of pastures and rough grassland’ that is also found on ‘roadsides, waste ground and woodland margins, particularly on moist sites’. Along the Pacific coast of North America, H. lanatus is found in discontinuous coastal scrub and coastal prairie habitats; along the Atlantic coast in West Virginia, it is common in maintained hay meadows (US Forest Service, 2013). Throughout North America, H. lanatus occurs from sea level to 2,300. For a detailed description of habitats H. lanatus occupies in the USA, see US Forest Service (2013).
In Hawaii, H. lanatus is found in all but the driest habitats. Like elsewhere in its distribution, it is common in pastures, grazed areas, wet disturbed sites and on roadsides (US Forest Service, 2013).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Natural|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
In a survey of weeds in conventional cereals in southern England in 1982, H. lanatus was discovered in 2% of winter wheat and winter barley (Chancellor and Froud-Williams, 1984). In set-aside land in Scotland it was one of the most frequent grasses, representing over 8% of the total ground cover (Fisher et al., 1992). H. lanatus has been a common contaminant of grass crops grown for seed (Thompson and Turkington, 1988). It is a widespread weed of herbage seed crops and can reduce seed yield of other species.
Biology and EcologyTop of page
H. lanatus flowers from June to September (Clapham et al., 1987). In the UK plants require vernalization in order to flower, with a minimum exposure of 25 days at a temperature of 5ºC required (Thompson and Turkington, 1988). Flowers are wind pollinated and outcrossing predominates. The seeds start to become viable 5 to 9 days after flowering and are 100% viable after 20 days (Beddows, 1961). Seeds are shed from June to early autumn (Watt, 1978). Seed numbers per panicle range from 100 to 380. H. lanatus produces abundant seed; the average seed number per plant is 177,000 to 240,000 depending on when the parent plant emerges; the later a plant emerges the fewer seeds it has (Watt, 1978). Fewer tillers develop in time to become vernalized over winter and hence able to flower. However, the panicles of late-emerging plants can produce more seeds to compensate for the lower tiller count, and so the seed production of late-summer/early autumn seedlings is large. In warmer regions H. lanatus flowers in its first year, but most native plants need their first winter to mature (Beddows, 1961).
H. lanatus seeds germinate over a wide range of soil temperatures, immediately becoming mature (Watt, 1978). The seeds germinate better in light than dark, and at fluctuating rather than constant temperatures. Seeds are able to immediately germinate on bare soil in open areas, but in closed vegetation germination is delayed (Grime, 1981).
Physiology and Phenology
There is little winter growth of H. lanatus, but it begins to grow at low temperatures in early spring (Grime et al., 1988). It produces profuse tillers and regenerates vegetatively by developing new shoots and roots at the nodes (Thompson and Turkington, 1988). H. lanatus does not have stolons in its first season (Salisbury, 1961). In established swards it forms large spreading clumps. Plants are relatively deep rooted, which proves an advantage to the plant in soils of low nutrient status (Watt, 1978). In addition it is reported that H. lanatus forms a dense network of surface roots (Beddows, 1961).
Thompson et al. (1993) reports that based on seed characters, H. lanatus seed is likely to persist for longer than 5 years. H. lanatus seed is persistent in the seedbank (Grime et al., 1988). During field experiments, seeds sown in a 75 mm layer of soil in cylinders, sunk in a UK field and stirred periodically, emerged mainly from April to October (Roberts, 1986). Most seedlings emerged in years 1 and 2 but some emergence of seedlings continued into year 3. Seed buried in mineral soil at 13, 26 or 39 cm depth and left undisturbed retained 17, 19 and 5% viability respectively after 4 years, but none were viable after 20 years (Lewis, 1973). Seeds buried in peat soil at 26 cm for 1, 4 and 20 years retained only 1% viability after a year. Seeds stored under granary conditions exhibited 82% viability after 1 year and 6% viability after 4 years, but were not viable after 20 years. Seed in dry storage had a 5% viability after 12 years (Beddows, 1961).
Adapted from US Forest Service (2013):
In Hawaii, H. lanatus is associated with sites disturbed by feral pig activity. The US Forest Service (2013) lists the following species as associated with H. lanatus:
‘koa-mamane (Acacia koa-Sophora chrysophylla) forests, koa-ohia (Metrosideros polymorpha) montane mesic forests, ohia montane wet forests, Hawaii blackberry (Rubus hawaiensis) shrublands, pukiawe-ohelo ai (Styphelia tameiameiae/Vaccinium reticulatum) shrublands, and alpine hairgrass (Deschampsia nubigena) grasslands.’
In Washington state, USA, H. lanatus is associated with Daucus carota and is a common understory plant in disturbed or grazed areas of Douglas-fir–Pacific madrone/pink honeysuckle (Pseudotsuga menziesii-Arbutus menziesii/Lonicera hispidula) forests. In Oregon, USA, H. lanatus is associated with Anthoxanthum odoratum and Agrostis gigantea, and can be found in red alder (Alnus rubra) stands, Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) woodlands and tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa) grasslands. In Massachusetts, USA, H. lanatus occurs in little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grasslands, and in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina, H. lanatus was common in fields dominated by common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex).
H. lanatus occurs over a wide range of soil types (Thompson and Thompson, 1988), although it prefers a soil pH range of 5-7.5. It is found in fen-meadow communities, poorly drained and water-logged soils, and low-fertility and nutrient-rich soils, pastures and meadows. Although H. lanatus is adapted to growing in wet conditions, it can also survive moderate drought, but with a much reduced growth rate (Watt, 1978). It has a wide climatic range and within the UK it has been recorded up to 600 m above sea level (Salisbury, 1961). Severe frost has been found to kill H. lanatus (Thompson and Turkington, 1988).
ClimateTop of page
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Preferred||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
|Ds - Continental climate with dry summer||Tolerated||Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)|
|Dw - Continental climate with dry winter||Tolerated||Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)|
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
H. lanatus is spread by wind dispersal of seed.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
In tests, a proportion of seeds ingested by earthworms were recovered in worm casts and remained viable (McRill, 1974). Bird ingest has variable consequences for the seed of H. lanatus: those that were ingested by sparrows were killed, while the majority of those eaten by rooks remained viable. H. lanatus can also be introduced to new areas by the dung of livestock (Lake et al., 2001).
H. lanatus has been a common contaminant of grass crops grown for seed (Thompson and Turkington, 1988).
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
|Germplasm||In the majority of British pasture seed mixtures||Yes||Yes|
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|True seeds (inc. grain)|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Cultural/amenity||Positive and negative|
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Where introduced, H. lanatus invades disturbed sites more rapidly than native species and will persist as one of the dominant species. It competes aggressively for both water and nutrients and forms dense swards that shade out the seedlings of native plants. Particularly in Hawaii, H. lanatus will rapidly colonise disturbed sites (US Forest Service, 2013).
The presence of H. lanatus changes litter composition and alters soil chemistry, modifying the composition and quantity of soil microbes and fungi, altering the nutrient cycling and significantly changing the plant composition of the invaded ecosystem.
GRIN lists H. lanatus as poisonous to mammals. It has been declared a noxious weed in Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia (USDA-ARS, 2013).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Tolerant of shade
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Fast growing
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of fire regime
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - shading
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
UsesTop of page
Normally H. lanatus is not liked by livestock as its hairy nature means it is less digestible than perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) (Morse and Palmer, 1925; Wilman and Riley, 1993). However, in damp pastures it is smoother and is eaten by cattle without objection. It is used for sheep grazing on the Falkland Islands (Thompson and Turkington, 1988). Young shoots are readily eaten by stock, digestibility is good and mineral status relatively high, but the dry matter content is low.
H. lanatus has been used for land stabilisation on the Farne Islands, off the northeast coast of England, and on denuded slopes in New Zealand (Thompson and Turkington, 1988).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
The purchase of seed should be done via reliable seed merchants who regularly check their seed stock for contaminants.
H. lanatus is not resistant to treading and is obliterated by puddling and trampling (Bates, 1935; Gillham, 1955). In the UK, in fields mown for late hay, H. lanatus has time to ripen and shed seed prior to cutting (Beddows, 1961). Intensive mowing or grazing suppresses the establishment and spread of H. lanatus (Thompson and Turkington, 1988). Regular grazing also keeps it in a vegetative and palatable condition. Lax growing and close grazing reduces the number of potential shoot buds (Beddows, 1961). Burning, ploughing and a lack of irrigation reduce the relative abundance of H. lanatus in pastures. Isolated plants should be tackled immediately, prior to them building up into small colonies.
No known biological control agents are available for commercial purchase, although it has been noted that a number of insects in H. lanatus’ native range attack the adult plant. It can also become infected with several fungal pathogens, including ergot (Clavicaps purpurea) (Beddows, 1961).
Taken from Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (2003):
Non-selective herbicides will kill H. lanatus but will also kill native plants. Selective herbicides, such as fluazifop and sethoxydim, will kill only broad-leaved grasses but will not harm sedges, wildflowers or fine-leaved grasses such as the USA native Roemer’s fescue (Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemeri). Herbicides are most effective on seedlings and adults as the flower heads emerge. Several applications may be needed for full control.
ReferencesTop of page
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04/01/13 Original text by:
Phil Roberts, CABI, UK
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