Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Elymus repens



Elymus repens (quackgrass)


  • Last modified
  • 27 March 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Elymus repens
  • Preferred Common Name
  • quackgrass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
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Top of page
TitleInflorescence - line drawing
Inflorescence - line drawingNOVARTIS
Spikelets compressed, 5-15 mm long, usually with four to six flowers.
TitleSpikelet - line drawing
CaptionSpikelets compressed, 5-15 mm long, usually with four to six flowers.
Spikelets compressed, 5-15 mm long, usually with four to six flowers.
Spikelet - line drawingSpikelets compressed, 5-15 mm long, usually with four to six flowers.NOVARTIS
Leaf blades soft, relatively flat, 3-10 mm wide.
TitleLeaf and ligule - line drawing
CaptionLeaf blades soft, relatively flat, 3-10 mm wide.
Leaf blades soft, relatively flat, 3-10 mm wide.
Leaf and ligule - line drawingLeaf blades soft, relatively flat, 3-10 mm wide.NOVARTIS


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Elymus repens (L.) Gould 1947

Preferred Common Name

  • quackgrass

Other Scientific Names

  • Agropyron repens (L.) Beauv. (1812)
  • Elytrigia repens (L.) Nevski 1933
  • Triticum repens L. (1753)

International Common Names

  • English: couch grass; quack grass
  • Spanish: grama de Europa
  • French: chiendent rampant
  • Portuguese: grama-francesa

Local Common Names

  • Germany: (gemeine) Quecke
  • Italy: agropiro comune; caprinella; gramigna; granaccio
  • Japan: himekamojigusa; shibamugi
  • Netherlands: kweek
  • Sweden: kvickrot

EPPO code

  • AGRRE (Elytrigia repens)

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Elymus
  •                                 Species: Elymus repens

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page The name most commonly used in agricultural literature up to recent years has been Agropyron repens. Linnaeus called the species Triticum repens because its inflorescence arrangement is similar to that of wheat and related plants. The common names couch or couch grass are frequently used, but are also often used for other rhizomatous grass species. Holm et al. (1977) therefore prefer the name quackgrass, and this, or quack grass, is the name most frequently used in North America.


E. repens is a very variable perennial species. In Flora Europaea (1964-80), five subspecies are recognized. The most widespread, ssp. repens, is strongly rhizomatous and is the subspecies important as a weed on cultivated land. It is also a frequent plant on other disturbed ground and in waste places within its distribution areas. Chromosome number is 2n=28 or 42 (Bor, 1960).

The subdivision of E. repens may be questioned and needs more thorough investigation, for example by comparison of plants from different geographical areas. Attempts to subdivide ssp. repens on the basis of morphological differences are doubtful (cf. Håkansson, 1967). As cross-pollination is predominant, sexual reproduction results in genotypically different clones which sometimes show morphological differences, e.g. in the inflorescence, within narrow areas. These differences, however, may have only a slight ecological or agronomic significance.


Top of page After Flora Europaea (1964-80); Håkansson (1967); Holm et al. (1977).

E. repens ssp. repens is a rhizomatous perennial grass developing erect culms, which are more or less curved at the base. Their length is between 30 and 120 cm.

Leaf blades are soft and relatively flat, 3-10 mm wide, dull and mostly dark green, sometimes glaucous. On the lower leaves, sheaths are often strongly hairy, on upper leaves smooth or slightly soft-hairy. Growth-chamber experiments in Sweden show that the sheaths become hairier at low than at high temperatures (S. Håkansson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, unpublished data, 1995). Auricles occur at the junction of the sheath and blade.

The inflorescence is a dense to rather lax spike, like a wheat spike but more slender, mostly 5-10 cm long. Spikelets are compressed, 5-15 mm long, usually with four to six flowers. Glumes are 5-15 mm long, lanceolate and mostly awn-pointed, lemma 6-11 mm with an awn from less than 1 mm up to about 10 mm. Seeds are enclosed in the glumes, forming a spool-shaped unit, broadest below the middle. The caryopsis is usually 4-5 mm long.

Rhizomes are pale yellow or straw-coloured with internodes from 2-8 cm in length and about 3 (1.5-4) mm in diameter. Their nodes, with more or less differentiated buds, are originally covered with scaly sheaths, which decay rather rapidly. Their apices are enclosed by sheaths which form a scaly cover ending in a sharp tip. The rhizomes are mostly creeping between the soil surface and a depth of 5-10 cm, or up to 20 cm in loose soil. Rhizomes may reach lengths of more than 1 m under favourable growth conditions. Fibrous roots develop from their nodes.


Top of page E. repens is a serious agricultural and horticultural weed mainly in temperate climates in the northern hemisphere, and to some extent in cool climates at higher altitudes within warmer regions. It is particularly important in the northernmost, cooler, agricultural areas, where it seems to be more competitive in perennial crops than further south (Håkansson, 1969b, 1982; Holm et al., 1977). It is reported as an important weed of coffee in higher, cooler areas of New Guinea and is found in scattered sites in the cooler mountain valleys of Central and South America (Holm et al., 1977). The occurrence of this species, a C3 plant, in temperate climates and its absence in the warm tropics may be due to difficulties in producing rhizomes at higher temperatures, which has been demonstrated experimentally (Håkansson, 1969b).

Distribution Table

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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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
ArmeniaPresentSaakyan et al., 1981
BangladeshRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
Georgia (Republic of)PresentPaichadze, 1974
IndiaRestricted distributionSapru and Raina, 1985; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-Jammu and KashmirPresentBor, 1960
IranRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
IsraelPresentYinon et al., 1985
JapanRestricted distributionTakabayashi, 1981; Hongo, 1985; EPPO, 2014
KazakhstanPresentZerova and Seregina, 1991
MongoliaPresentBor, 1960
PakistanPresentCope, 1982
TurkeyRestricted distributionKismali, 1989; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014


EgyptPresentAhmed, 1980
NigeriaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014

North America

CanadaRestricted distributionwidespread in humid areas; Holm et al., 1977; Alex, 1982; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-AlbertaWidespreadWein et al., 1992
USAWidespreadHolm et al., 1977; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-HawaiiPresentEPPO, 2014
-New JerseyPresent
-New MexicoPresent
-New YorkPresent
-North CarolinaPresent
-North DakotaPresent
-Rhode IslandPresent
-South DakotaPresent
-West VirginiaPresent

South America

ArgentinaRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
EcuadorRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014


AustriaPresentNeururer, 1975
BelarusPresentMironenko and Khodortsov, 1978
BelgiumRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
BulgariaRestricted distributionKonstantinov and Nikolova, 1983; EPPO, 2014
Czech RepublicWidespreadEPPO, 2014
Czechoslovakia (former)Widespread****Holm et al., 1991; Stach, 1992; EPPO, 2014
DenmarkRestricted distributionKorsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
FinlandRestricted distributionKorsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
FranceRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
GermanyWidespread****Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
GreeceRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
HungaryWidespread****Kovaks, 1983; Hunyadi, 1979; EPPO, 2014
IcelandRestricted distributionGunnarsson, 1984; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
IrelandRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
ItalyRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
LithuaniaWidespreadKorsmo, 1954; Vysniauskas and Tindziulis, 1987
NetherlandsWidespreadHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
NorwayRestricted distributionKorsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
PolandRestricted distributionRola, 1995; Korsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; Rola and Rola, 1994; Badowski and Rola, 1997; EPPO, 2014
PortugalPresentFontes et al., 1977
RomaniaWidespreadPintilie and Chirila, 1985
Russian FederationRestricted distributionKorsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-SiberiaPresentBor, 1960
SerbiaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
SlovakiaPresentPaulech, 1992
SpainRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
SwedenRestricted distribution****Korsmo, 1954; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
SwitzerlandPresentSturny et al., 1984
UKWidespread****Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
UkraineRestricted distributionPetrova, 1975; Dzhyuba, 1992
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)Restricted distributionHolm et al., 1991


AustraliaRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-TasmaniaPresentDept of Agriculture Tasmania, 1977
-Western AustraliaPresentDept of Agriculture Western Australia, 1972
New ZealandRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
Papua New GuineaWidespreadHolm et al., 1991


Top of page The species grows on many types of soil, both mineral and organic. It seems to be most competitive on fertile soils, rich in nitrogen and with a good water supply, and is less successful on very acid or very dry, shallow soils (Ellenberg, 1974; Holm et al., 1977; Wedin and Tilman, 1996).

Biology and Ecology

Top of page E. repens ssp. repens is a rhizomatous perennial grass with both vegetative and sexual reproduction. It propagates easily by the rhizomes, even short fragments of which are regenerative if they include a node. The plant can therefore be rapidly spread and multiplied by soil cultivation, and where competition from other plants is not too strong, undisturbed plants can develop rapidly extending clones. In a short-term perspective, vegetative propagation dominates quantitatively and contributes to the special character of the species as a weed. However, following very thorough control of this weed in the field, surviving seeds will be important (together with surviving rhizome fragments) for initiating a new weed population. Furthermore, the seeds enable the formation of new genotypes, which is promoted by the prevalent cross-pollination. Because of a high degree of self-sterility (see Beddows, 1931), seed production is variable but on the whole high. Although the seeds have no, or no lengthy, innate dormancy (cf. Williams, 1968), a soil seed bank of considerable importance usually builds up (Korsmo, 1925; Palmer and Sagar, 1963; Håkansson, 1967, 1969a, 1970; Williams, 1970; Williams and Attwood, 1971).

Seedlings normally begin to develop rhizomes when they have four to six foliar leaves. Until then, they are as sensitive to mechanical disturbance as seedlings of annual plants. After rhizomes have developed, the plants are comparable to those developed from rhizome buds (Håkansson, 1970; Williams, 1970).

According to experiments by Håkansson (1967, 1969b, 1974, 1995) studying E. repens, its undisturbed growth and susceptibility to mechanical and chemical disturbance can be described as follows. In undisturbed clones, new plants or plant units (i.e. aerial shoots and attached adventitious roots) mainly develop from the apices of rhizome branches, whereas apical dominance prevents axillary buds from being activated. On the other hand, axillary rhizome buds are activated to a greater extent by soil cultivation or other disturbances breaking or wounding the rhizome system. Such buds then greatly contribute to the development of new plants. In studying 'late-spring dormancy' as described by Johnson and Buchholz (1962), Håkansson (1967) interpreted this dormancy to be merely due to shortage of food reserves in the rhizomes, a shortage which at the same time results in minimum capacity for regeneration in late spring to early summer. This minimum appears when primary shoots have developed 3-4 leaves and results in minimum tolerance to mechanical disturbance. According to studies in the UK (e.g. Leakey et al., 1978), rhizome buds can show two types of dormancy, a cyclical innate dormancy associated with the early summer season, as well as that due to apical dominance.

When the primary shoots of the plants or plant units have developed a foliage large enough for photosynthesis to compensate and increasingly exceed the consumption in the below-ground system, secondary tillers and new rhizome branches begin to develop from buds near or below the soil surface. In unshaded plants, this usually happens when the primary shoots have three to four foliage leaves. At this stage, or during a slightly extended period, the plants have a minimum regenerative capacity and are therefore more susceptible to mechanical disturbance by soil cultivation than earlier or later. The systemic effect of foliar herbicides is greater after application somewhat later, when the downward stream of assimilate is stronger and the foliage catching applied herbicides is larger in relation to the below-ground plant parts (Håkansson, 1967, 1969b, 1974, 1995).

Many of the aerial shoots established during the earlier part of the growing season, particularly the primary shoots, develop a culm by stem elongation. In many cases, a great proportion of the culms are sterile, but are otherwise similar to the spike-bearing ones.

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Blumeria graminis Pathogen
Cochliobolus sativus Pathogen
Drechslera biseptata Pathogen
Puccinia acroptili Pathogen
Pyrenophora bromi Pathogen
Pyrenophora japonica Pathogen
Sipha maydis Predator Inflorescence/Leaves
Subanguina picridis Parasite


Top of page E. repens is a competitive weed, being able to reduce growth and production in any crop, including competitive crops such as cereals. In the northernmost agricultural areas, e.g. in northern Scandinavia, it is frequently regarded as the economically most important weed. Many shoots of this grass are often still green when the crop is ripe. At mechanical harvest of cereals and other crops, these shoots can cause technical problems and result in yield losses. Hoeing in row crops is made difficult by rhizomes of E. repens in the soil.

In grassland and other crops grown for grazing, green forage, hay, etc., small amounts of E. repens may be harmless, if harvested in the younger stages when its shoots provide a qualitatively good feed (Teräsvouri, 1929). High proportions of E. repens are, however, always unfavourable in fodder crops stands because of a quantitatively low production.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage


  • Erosion control or dune stabilization

Human food and beverage

  • Spices and culinary herbs

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Prevention and Control

Top of page Cultural Control

Cultural measures in the cropping system should always be considered. Measures improving the effect of competition in competitive crops such as small-grain cereals, oil-seed Brassica crops and many fodder crops are important. Using as small row spacings as is technically possible, and making all efforts to achieve an even distribution of the crop plants in the row, can reduce the plant growth of E. repens considerably, particularly in combination with a rapid and even emergence and establishment of the crop plants. To achieve rapid crop establishment, seedbed preparation and sowing depth adapted to soil type and climate are of the utmost importance (Håkansson, 1974, 1979, 1995). Systematic combination of techniques aimed at optimizing the competition from a potentially competitive crops, such as small grain cereals, may reduce the growth of E. repens by 50%.

Mechanical Control

Although considerable effects can be obtained by enhancing competition in certain crops, additional control is usually needed. When crops are harvested long before the end of the growing season, E. repens has its best period of rhizome production after harvest, in a period free of competition from the crop. Changing this period of production into reduction by mechanical or chemical control is a most effective measure in a control system for E. repens. When soil cultivation is carried out, the first operation (stubble cultivation) is preferably done immediately after harvest, with implements breaking the rhizomes as much as possible (Håkansson, 1968b; Boström and Fogelfors, 1999). When the growing period is long enough, operations are repeated at intervals. Ploughing is the last operation before winter or, on certain soils, it can be done in early spring if therew is enough time before the final seedbed preparation and sowing of the next crop. According to Håkansson (1974, 1982, 1995), combination of such tillage and competition in good stands of crops such as small-grain cereals will suppress E. repens and similar weeds by 90% or more.

Without effective tillage, E. repens, like other creeping perennial weeds, is hard to control sufficiently by any means except herbicides. This is illustrated in many experiments with reduced tillage in various forms (for example, Bachthaler, 1974; Cussans, 1976; Rydberg, 1992; Børresen and Njøs, 1994; Skuterud et al., 1996; Dzienia and Piskier, 1998).

Chemical Control

Where mechanical control is not desirable or not possible due to soil or climate, or for other reasons, different herbicides can be used for controlling grasses such as E. repens. Some of the more important ones are presented below.

A number of systemic foliar herbicides are effective on E. repens when the plants have sufficient actively growing aerial shoots in proportion to the attached rhizome system. The most important is glyphosate, a herbicide with low selectivity, used in a large number of countries with good effect in controlling E. repens. It is used in stubble fields after harvest, on fallow land, in orchards, on grassland in connection with ploughing (either before or following ploughing after sufficient time), in field margins and headlands, and in some countries, in ripe cereals e.g. by wiping or even spraying overall before harvest. Examples of other herbicides used for the control of E. repens are sethoxydime and cycloxydime, which are selective herbicides used in a number of dicotyledonous crops such as rape, turnip rape, beet, potatoes and peas. In recent years, other herbicides of this type, such as tepraloxydim (Kibler et al., 1999) have been used successfully in many of the crops mentioned. Foliar-applied herbicides of the sulfuro group may also be of interest for controlling E. repens, for example, sulfuron in potatoes (Kuzior et al., 1999), wheat (Rainbolt et al., 1999) and in fields of stubble (Rola et al., 2000). This and other herbicides of this group might attract an increasing interest in the control of E. repens in different cereals (e.g. Feucht et al., 1999). Various adjuvants are of interest for increasing the effect of sulfuron and other herbicides (Woznica et al., 1998). Among selective herbicides for soil application, EPTC has been used for several decades and is still used in some countries in dicotyledonous crops, e.g. in potatoes before planting. Propyzamide and terbacil are used in some countries, e.g. in orchards.


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