Vulpia bromoides (squirreltail fescue)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Vulpia bromoides (L.) Gray
Preferred Common Name
- squirreltail fescue
Other Scientific Names
- Bromus dertonensis All
- Festuca bromoides L.
- Festuca dertonensis (All.) Asch. & Graebn.
- Festuca dertonensis var. sciuroides (Roth) Briq.
- Festuca geniculata var. monandra Döll
- Festuca myuros ssp. sciuroides (Roth) Rouy
- Festuca myuros var. bromoides (L.) Wimm. & Grab.
- Festuca myuros var. sciuroides (Roth) Coss. & Durieu
- Festuca sciuroides Roth
- Vulpia dertonensis (All.) Gola
- Vulpia myuros ssp. sciuroides (Roth) Rouy
- Vulpia myuros var. bromoides (L.) Parl.
- Vulpia sciuroides (Roth) C.C. Gmel.
International Common Names
- English: vulpia hair grass
Local Common Names
- English: barren fescue; brome fescue; six-weeks fescue
- French: vulpie faux brome; vulpie queue-d'écureuil
- Spanish: pasto de sedilla
- Australia: hairgrass; silky grass; silver grass; squirreltail fescue
- Brazil: cevadinha-braba; festuca-cevadinha
- Sweden: ekorrsvingel
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Weedy annual grasses likeV. bromoides can reduce biodiversity on native grasslands, impede their restoration, and alter ecosystem processes. In pastures, V. bromoides reduces productivity, has low palatability, and its seeds can damage hides and wool of grazing animals. In annual crops like wheat, the species reduces yields (ISSG, 2012).
V. myuros, a close relative of V. bromoides has apparently increased in Canadian wheat crops with the introduction of direct-seed cropping systems (Ball et al., 2008).
Wallace (1998) suggests that the long presence of the species in Australia, and its wide range throughout southern Australia probably means that it has reached the limits of its distribution there.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Vulpia
- Species: Vulpia bromoides
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Hubbard (1984) reported that “A rare hybrid with Festuca rubra has been found in Sussex and Suffolk”.
Vulpia consists of about 20 species, which are currently placed in five sections (Cotton and Stace 1977; Stace 1978, 1981, cited in Ainscough et al., 1986). Species of section Vulpia differ markedly from all species of Festuca in their annual habit, cleistogamous florets with usually only one or two stamens, and usually markedly unequal glumes. In addition, they have overlapping leaf-sheaths and only intravaginal innovations, and are fully self-fertile. Each species is characterized by a single chromosome number at the diploid (e.g. V. bromoides (L.) S. F. Gray), tetraploid (e.g. V. ciliata Dumort.) or hexaploid (e.g. V. myuros (L.) C. C. Gmelin) levels (2n = 14, 28, 42).’
DescriptionTop of page
Clayton et al. (2006) describes V. bromoides as the following:
Annual; culms solitary, or caespitose. Culms erect, or decumbent; 5–60 cm long. Leaf sheaths without keel; smooth; glabrous on surface. Ligule an eciliate membrane; 0.2–0.5 mm long. Leaf-blades flat, or involute; 1–18 cm long; 0.5–3 mm wide; firm, or flaccid. Leaf-blade surface pubescent; hairy adaxially. Leaf-blade margins scaberulous. Leaf-blade apex attenuate.
Inflorescence a panicle; exserted. Panicle open, or contracted; lanceolate, or oblong; equilateral, or nodding; 1–10 cm long. Primary panicle branches appressed, or ascending. Panicle branches angular; scaberulous. Spikelets solitary. Fertile spikelets pedicelled. Pedicels oblong; 1–4 mm long.
Spikelets comprising 3–10 fertile florets; with diminished florets at the apex. Spikelets oblong, or cuneate; laterally compressed; 7–14 mm long; breaking up at maturity; disarticulating below each fertile floret. Rhachilla internodes eventually visible between lemmas; scaberulous.
Glumes persistent; similar; shorter than spikelet; thinner than fertile lemma. Lower glume linear to lanceolate; 2–6 mm long; 0.5–0.75 length of upper glume; membranous; without keels; 1 -veined. Lower glume lateral veins absent. Lower glume apex acute. Upper glume lanceolate; 5–10 mm long; 1 length of adjacent fertile lemma; membranous; without keels; 3 -veined. Upper glume apex attenuate.
Fertile lemma lanceolate; 6–9 mm long; chartaceous; without keel; 5 -veined. Lemma surface scaberulous. Lemma apex acuminate; awned; 1 -awned. Principal lemma awn 5–12 mm long overall. Palea 1 length of lemma; 2 -veined. Palea keels scaberulous. Apical sterile florets resembling fertile though underdeveloped.
Anthers 1; 0.3–0.6 mm long; retained within floret. Ovary glabrous.
Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; glabrous. Hilum linear; 1 length of caryopsis.
Plant TypeTop of page
Grass / sedge
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: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Federal Republic of Yugoslavia||Present||Native|
|United Kingdom||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-New South Wales||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Northern Territory||Present, Localized||Introduced|
|-South Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Western Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|New Zealand||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
According to Wallace (1998), V. bromoides was listed as an ornamental grass in a seed catalogue published in 1886. Therefore, in some cases at least, the species might have been a garden escape. However, it was almost certainly accidentally introduced to many places as a contaminant in grass seed, or in hay or straw carried round the world to support livestock in the early days of colonisation in the Americas, Australasia and elsewhere. Seeds may also have been transported, both locally and internationally, by adhering to the wool or hairs of introduced livestock or attaching to people’s clothing. Another possible method of introduction to new areas was the incorporation of seed inadvertently into ship ballast (Kloot, 1986).
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|New Zealand||1864||Yes||THOMSON (1922)|
|South Australia||1848||Yes||Jessop et al. (2006)|
|Western Australia||Mediterranean and Black Sea||1891||Yes||Wallace (1998)|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
Although V. bromoides has been present in some non-native countries for a number of years, its spread within some of these countries is still a potential risk.
HabitatTop of page
Vulpia species seem to prefer dry, depleted soils, low in nutrients, and this perhaps explains their occurrence where other, more perennial pasture grasses do not persist. In Australia they have become a major invasive problem of pastures, where they displace more productive grasses and clovers, and crops, such as wheat.
Weber (2003) described its habitat as “Grass and heathland, riparian habitats, freshwater wetlands, coastal beaches. This shallow-rooted grass grows well in soils of low fertility. Where invasive, it successfully competes with native grasses and forbs for water, space and nutrients. It forms dense swards crowding out native plants and reducing species richness”.
In the UK, Hubbard’s (1984) description is “A slender grass of dry places, frequent throughout the British Isles; on heaths, hill grassland, roadsides, often abundant and forming pure masses on open sandy or stony ground and on waste land, occasional in open woodland and as a weed of cultivated land; from sea-level to nearly 610 m”.
In New Zealand, Edgar and Connor (2010) describe the habitat as ‘Waste land and disturbed ground, stony river beds and dry depleted grassland; sea level to subalpine.’
Jessop et al. (2006) in South Australia, described it as an occasional weed of disturbed places, found in open forest and woodland, on sandy loam to clay loam soils.
Wallace (1998) drew the conclusion from published work that V. myuros (and probably V. bromoides) tolerates soils with low potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen status. This tolerance is likely to be one of the main reasons for these plants becoming the dominant species as soil fertility declines.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
In Canada, V. bromoides is one of several species named as threatening the habitat and therefore the survival of Rosy Owl-clover (Orthocarpus bracteosus) (Fairburns, 2002).
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Biology and EcologyTop of page
2n = 14, 28, 42 (Ainscough et al., 1986).
Reproduction is only by seed and the species is a C3 annual. In Australia, and elsewhere, plants flower in spring or early summer (October to January in Australia) (Jessop et al. 2005). Hubbard (1984) reports it flowering between May and July in the UK.
Vulpia is a high selfing genus but both self-fertilisation and cross-fertilisation seem to occur (Loo, 2005). According to Cotton and Stace (1977), fertile florets are cleistogamous, usually have only one or two stamens and are fully self-fertile.
Flood and Halloran (1982) found that V. bromoides possessed little or no vernalisation response and was comparatively insensitive to photoperiod.
Wallace (1998) reported that it takes about 18 days from flowering to seed set, although this can vary from 7-30 days depending on growing conditions. Seeds are released soon after maturity and are dislodged by wind or animal movement. The spikelet disarticulates at the base of each floret and leaves the pedicel and two glumes on the parent plant (Cotton and Stace, 1977).
Lonsdale et al. (1999) compared seed survival and plant fecundity in French (where the genus Vulpia is relatively uncommon) and Australian (where species have a major impact on pasture productivity) populations of V. bromoides and V. myuros. They found that although seeds disappeared quickly when buried, some always survived for at least 18 months, and persistence in the soil was always greater in France than in Australia. However, Australian populations, in pure stands, were much more fecund than French ones, although Australian populations exposed to grazing and competition from other pasture species behaved similarly to those in France.
Physiology and Phenology
Seeds germinate readily over the range 11 – 25oC (Loo, 2005). Dillon and Forcella (1984) found that dormant seeds of V. bromoides require an after-ripening period of 2-3 months before they could germinate, and seeds usually germinate in the first year after shedding. McGowan (1970), however, did find that under some conditions seeds could remain dormant for two years, possibly as a result of warm temperatures after rain. Exposure to light enhances germination and also the temperature range over which germination occurs (Dillon and Forcella, 1984).
Germination in the autumn usually follows substantial rainfall. Dillon and Forcella (1984) observed that at least 50 mm of monthly rainfall was needed to stimulate germination. In Australia, most germination normally takes place in autumn, between March and early June.
On the tablelands of northern New South Wales, at altitudes mostly over 1000 m with a subhumid climate and maximum rainfall in summer, Mclntyre and Whalley (1990) found that V. bromoides was very often closely associated with the related V. myuros and that both species share a broad ecological tolerance.
According to Wallace (1998) the plants most frequently associated with species of Vulpia in Australia are the annual grasses, annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum), barley grasses (Critesion spp.), and Bromus spp., and introduced, naturalised broadleaved annuals like subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum), capeweed (Arctotheca calendula) and storksbill (Erodium spp.). Species of Vulpia are usually sub-dominant in the sward but become dominant after removal of the dominant species, for example, after the use of herbicides.
Wallace (1998) suggested that V. myuros (and probably V. bromoides) tolerate soils with low potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen status.
ClimateTop of page
|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)|
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Mean annual rainfall||300||1200||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- very acid
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Lonsdale et al., (1999) speculated that the difference in plant fecundity in its native and introduced environments may be due to the effect of natural enemies in its native environment (the enemy release hypothesis is often used to explain the greater success of an invasive species in alien environments than in its native one). Vulpia spp. are often susceptible to attack by generalist herbivorous insects in their local environment.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
Seeds are light and readily carried by even light breezes.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
Ants may transport seed for some distance, mainly to store as food.
Seeds are easily caught in clothing, particularly knitted items, such as socks. Seeds also readily attach to animal wool, fur or hair and can thus be carried for long distances.
Wallace (1998) mentioned the possible Australian introduction of the species as a garden ornamental in the late 1800s.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
|Plants or parts of plants||As seed||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
Economic ImpactTop of page
V. bromoides, along with V. myuros and other annual grasses, has become a major problem in pastures and crops in Australia. Populations of seedlings in Australian pastures can exceed 40,000 per square metre.
According to Loo (2005), species of Vulpia have only become of concern to the farming community in Australia since the late 1980s. He suggests that this may be due to climatic changes or, more likely to changes in agronomic practices, like the introduction of direct drilling or minimum tillage. Species of Vulpia produce low quality forage for livestock, and, at high densities, interfere with the yields of crops like wheat. In the Pacific Northwest of the USA, it is worth noting that the closely related V. myuros is becoming increasingly common in wheat-based cropping systems as a result of minimum-tillage and direct-seeding becoming a common practice (Ball and Hulting, 2009).
Residues of Vulpia can have allelopathic effects on pasture species (subterranean clover – Trifolium subterraneum, lucerne - Medicago sativa, phalaris - Phalaris aquatica) and crops like wheat (Triticum aestivum) (Pratley and Ingrey, 1990).
The small, sharp, awned seeds, along with those of Hordeum spp. and Bromus spp. contaminate and devalue sheep’s wool in both Australia and New Zealand. The seeds of these species also lodge in the eyes, ears, mouths and skin of livestock, causing them discomfort, which can in turn lead to reduced livestock weight gains.
The species also acts as host for a range of cereal root diseases including take-all, crown rot, rhizoctonia, bare patch and common root rot. Like other annual grasses, V. bromoides can act as host for the crop pest webworm Hednota spp. It is also a host for the nematode that causes annual ryegrass toxicity (Riley and McKay, 1991).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
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
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Highly mobile locally
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Competition - shading
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
UsesTop of page
V. bromoides is grazed by livestock, although other pasture species are usually preferred.
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
V. bromoides is very similar in appearance to V. myuros and both species are often found growing together. In V. myuros, the panicle is usually very narrow, is often not fully exserted from the leaf sheath, and the lower glume is less than a quarter to almost half the length of the upper glume. Whereas in V. bromoides, the lower glume is half to three quarters of the length of the upper glume and the panicle is lanceolate to narrow-oblong, erect or sometimes nodding (Edgar and Connor, 2010).
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.
Modern phytosanitary precautions should reduce or eliminate international movement. However, limiting its movement within a country could be more difficult because of the ease with which the seed can be transported.
Since V. bromoides populations in some parts of Australia have developed resistance to bipyridyl herbicides like paraquat and diquat, care should be taken to prevent seed from these populations from spreading to unaffected areas on, for example, agricultural machinery or livestock . In addition, where herbicides are regularly applied to populations of V. bromoides herbicides from different herbicide groups should be used alternately to prevent or delay the build-up of resistant biotypes.
Seed germination is prevented by ploughing or other cultivation methods that bury the seed deeply in the soil. Individual plants are easily pulled or dug up. Conventional tillage such as ploughing is therefore an effective method of control, but only if it is carried out in March or later in Australia.
Hard grazing can be used to limit seed production in species of Vulpia, especially soon after germination in autumn and in spring, when the seedheads are produced (Jones and Whalley, 1992).
In Australia, control of species of Vulpia is possible with herbicides in legume-based pastures or in grain-legume crops like lupins, but in non-legume crops integrated management is essential to achieve acceptable control.
In crops in Australia, Wallace (1998) mentions use of simazine in grain-legume crops, and trifluralin in lupins (Lupinus spp.), field peas (Pisum sativum), canola (Brassica rapa), safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), linseed (Linum usitatissimum), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), and faba beans (Vicia faba). Diuron, trisulfuron and cyanazine and metribuzin have also been used in various crops (Wallace, 1998).
Leys and Plater (1993) found that tank mixes of simazine plus very low rates of paraquat gave over 90% control of V. bromoides and other grass species in subterranean clover pastures in southern New South Wales. The paraquat destroys any seedlings already emerged and the simazine prevents germination of further seed. Wallace (1998) mentioned the use of propyzamide, carbetamide, 2,2-DPA for control of species of Vulpia in Australian pastures. Both propyzamide and carbetamide also kill other grasses and have residual activity, so could only be used where clover dominance is desired.
In New Zealand, where the species is a problem in small seed crops, ethofumesate, terbuthylazine and atrazine have proved useful (Foundation for Arable Research, 2008).
The downside of regular repeated application of herbicides is the development of resistance in weed species. Heap (2012) reported that V. bromoides in Victoria first evolved resistance to Group D/22 (bipyridilium - Herbicide Class L in Australia) herbicides in 1990. Research has shown that these particular biotypes are resistant to diquat and paraquat and may be cross-resistant to other Group D/22 herbicides.
ISSG (2012) suggests that integrated management combining pasture rest, herbicide treatment and fertilizer application has been shown to reduce seed production and improve control. In addition, it would be beneficial to use pasture species or cultivars best suited to the local environment, accompanied by pasture management to encourage the oversown or drilled pasture species.
The important consideration is the maintenance of vigorous, health pasture species, using appropriate fertilisers and appropriate grazing management.
Dowling et al. (2004) found that pastures containing annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum) were effective in reducing plant, panicle and seed densities of V. bromoides compared with those where only subterranean clover (Trifolium subterrraneum) was present.
Simazine can be applied at low rates after annual ryegrass emergence to help control species of Vulpia. (Wallace, 1998). Spray-topping is a technique often used in Australian pastures, where relatively low rates of non-selective herbicides are applied to grass seed heads during flowering, in an attempt to reduce or prevent setting of viable seed. Paraquat or glyphosate are the herbicides commonly used and they can reduce seed set by about 30% (Wallace, 1998). Seed production can be further reduced by grazing after the spray-top treatment. Such spray-topping increases the grazing value of species of Vulpia and may result in more intense grazing of the plants. Dowling et al., (1992) found that pastures spray-topped with paraquat in spring (September to November), and in winter (June) the next year with simazine resulted in fewer Vulpia plants than either simazine alone or spray-topping alone.
Strategic heavy grazing in spring has been shown to reduce seed set, especially when combined with autumn grazing to reduce seedling establishment (Jones and Whalley, 1993).
In a one year experiment on dryland Canterbury pastures (subject to summer drought) in New Zealand, Tozer et al. (2010) found that survival and seedhead production of both Vulpia myuros and Bromus hordeaceus were lower in cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) than in ryegrass (Lolium perenne)-based pastures.
ReferencesTop of page
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Ball DA; Hulting AG, 2009. Rattail fescue biology and management in Pacific Northwest wheat cropping systems., USA: Oregon State University, Washington State University, University of Idaho, 1-8. http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/12927/PNW613.pdf;jsessionid=018F5DF0096AA0AE1F04CEC0AEAA6C14?sequence=1
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Tozer KN; Edwards GR; Cameron CA, 2010. Suppression of vulpia and goose grass in dryland pastures through the choice of sown pasture species. Proceedings of the New Zealand Grassland Association [Proceedings of the New Zealand Grassland Association, Lincoln, Christchurch, New Zealand, November 2010.], 72:269-272.
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Weber E, 2005. Invasive Plant Species of the World. A Reference Guide to Environmental Weeds. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.
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ContributorsTop of page
31/10/12 Original text by:
Ian Popay, consultant, New Zealand, with the support of Landcare Research.
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