Alopecurus pratensis (meadow foxtail)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Alopecurus pratensis L.
Preferred Common Name
- meadow foxtail
Other Scientific Names
- Alopecurus altissimus Schur
- Alopecurus brachyglossus Peterm.
- Alopecurus pallidus Dumort.
- Alopecurus scaber Opiz
- Phalaris aristata Schousb. ex Willd.
- Tozzettia pratensis (L.) Savi
International Common Names
- English: field meadow foxtail; golden foxtail grass; perennial foxtail; yellow foxtail grass
- Spanish: alopecuro; alopecuro de los prados; cola de zorra; rabo de zorra; vulpino
- French: vulpin des prés
- Russian: lisohvost lugovoj
- Chinese: da kan mai niang
Local Common Names
- Germany: wiesenfuchsschwanz
- Italy: coda di volpe; codino dei prati
- Japan: o-suzume-no-teppo
- Netherlands: grote vossestaart
- Portugal: rabo-de-raposa
- Sweden: ängskavle
- ALOPR (Alopecurus pratensis)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
A. pratensis is a perennial grass with a broad native range. Records indicate it is native to areas within Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Siberia to Mongolia, northern China and the Russian Far East. This species was introduced into much of North America, parts of South America and Australia as a pasture and hay species and has since naturalized. In many countries this species has escaped cultivation and due to its rapid growth in spring, it may act as an agricultural weed. In its native range, this species has been recorded to form dense swards that allow very few grasses and herbaceous species to thrive with it, decreasing the biodiversity (Botanical Society of the British Isles, 2015). In its introduced range, A. pratensis has been reported as invasive in parts of Australia, Alaska, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Alopecurus
- Species: Alopecurus pratensis
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Linnaeus named this species A. pratensis in 1753 and the name has never been changed (Monsen et al., 2004). A number of synonyms of this species exist including different varieties and cultivars. For example five breeding cultivars are used in Russia and two in Canada (Dzyubenko and Dzyubenko, 2009). A full list of synonyms for this species is provided by The Plant List (2013). Attractive variegated forms of this species occur, such as the varieties 'aureo-variegatus' and 'aureus' (Hubbard, 1984).
According to GBIF (2015) five subordinate taxa exist. These are A. pratensis alpestris, A. pratensis laguriformis, A. pratensis pratensis, A. pratensis pseudonigricans and A. pratensis soongoricus. The Plant List (2013) however only recognises three; A. pratensis subsp. alpestris, A. pratensis var. aquaticus and A. pratensis subsp. laguriformis. The high level of variability within the species is unsurprising considering its very broad native range.
DescriptionTop of page
A perennial tufted grass with culms erect or kneed at the base and then erect, 30–120 cm long, with no nodal roots. The ligule is membranous, 1–2.5 mm long. Leaf blades are 6–40 cm long and 3–10 mm wide. The leaf blade surface is smooth or slightly rough to the touch and rough on its lower surface. Inflorescence a spike-like panicle, 2–13 cm long and 0.5–1 cm wide, with tightly packed silvery-green to purplish spikelets. Spikelets solitary with one fertile floret with no rhachilla extension. Spikelets elliptical or oblong, laterally compressed, 4–6 mm long, falling entire. Glumes have margins united for ¼ of their length, both similar, 4–6 mm long and reach the apex of the floret. Fertile lemma elliptical or ovate; 4–6 mm long, membranous, keeled, 4–veined, lemma margins joined below the mid-point. Lemma with a single awn arising 0.2–0.3 way up the back of lemma, 6–10 mm long projecting 3-4 mm beyond the glumes. Palea absent or minute. Anthers 3; 2–3.5 mm long. Stigmas mature before the anthers to limit self-fertilisation. Fruit a caryopsis with an adherent pericarp. Spikelets shed independently from the seed head (Clayton et al., 2006).
In the UK a number of different varieties have been sown which have different forms, some with leafy, succulent foliage whilst others are stemmy and of little value to farmers (Hubbard, 1984).
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
A. pratensis has a broad native range, including Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Siberia to Mongolia, northern China and the Russian Far East (USDA-ARS, 2015). It has however been widely introduced into temperate grassland regions around the world, where it has now naturalized. It is present in much of North America, parts of South America and Australia.
As a pasture species, A. pratensis seems to perform best in cooler areas such as the steppes of northern Russia and northern North America.
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 Feb 2022
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|French Southern Territories||Present||Introduced||2000||Original location reported: Kerguelen Islands|
|China||Present||Native||1500-2500 m altitude|
|Portugal||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Russia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Newfoundland and Labrador||Present||Introduced|
|-Prince Edward Island||Present||Introduced|
|-District of Columbia||Present||Introduced|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New South Wales||Present, Localized||Introduced|
|-South Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||South-eastern areas|
|-Western Australia||Present, Localized||Introduced|
|New Zealand||Present, Localized||Introduced||More common near Auckland and Christchurch|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
Wheeler (1950) reported the introduction of this species to North America from Europe in the mid to late1800s. A. pratensis was also carried to Australasia with the widespread emigration of people from western Europe during the 1800s. It was introduced into Australia in 1858 (Jessop et al., 2006) and New Zealand in 1871 from the UK for crop production purposes (Elser and Astridge, 1987).
.A. pratensis was once widely grown as a fodder grass in the UK but more recently its use has greatly diminished, being replaced by Phleum pratense (Barnes, 1930). According to Morisawa (1999), A. pratensis has grown in importance since the 1940s as a grazing grass in Canada, the USA and Japan. It was introduced into cultivation in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century and is now cultivated on relatively small squares in the forest areas of 39 regions and republics of the former USSR countries (Dzyubenko and Dzyubenko, 2009).
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|Australia||UK||1858||Crop production (pathway cause)||Yes||No||Jessop et al. (2006)||Usually found in agricultural land|
|New Zealand||UK||1871||Crop production (pathway cause)||Yes||No||Esler and Astridge (1987)||Only common near Auckland and Christchurch|
|USA||Europe||late 1800s||Crop production (pathway cause)||Yes||No||Kline et al. (1993)||Introduced by an immigrant from eastern Europe|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
A. pratensis can reproduce by producing both a large number of seed and vegetatively from rhizomes. There is potential for seeds to contaminate grass seed and straw which could lead to its introduction into new areas, however it is likely that this species is already present in most countries in which it is likely to grow.
HabitatTop of page
Barkworth et al. (2007) describes A. pratensis as growing in poorly to somewhat drained soils in meadows, riverbanks, lakesides, ditches, roadsides and fence rows. It has been widely introduced around the world as a pasture grass. In the UK, it is most abundant in low lying areas and river valleys, especially in water meadows or old grasslands on rich, moist soils (Hubbard, 1984). The Flora of China Editorial Committee (2015) describes its habitat in China as montane meadows, forest margins, river valleys at an altitude of 1500-2500 m. In North America A. pratensis is particularly suited to the cool, temperate climates of Canada and northern USA where it thrives best in moist areas such as swampy areas and near ponds and streams (Kline et al., 1993).
In Oregon it has been seen to invade emergent wetlands, moist meadows, ditches, streams, grasslands, fields and abandoned areas (OSU Rangeland Ecology and Management, 2005).
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||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
|Phleum pratense (timothy grass)||Poaceae||Main|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
A. pratensis spreads vegetatively by sprouting from its short rhizomes. In addition to this, it produces a large number of seeds. It is one of the earliest grasses to flower in most environments, flowering as early as April in the UK (Hubbard, 1984). Plants are producers of large crops of light, fluffy seeds which makes commercial collection and sowing difficult (Hannaway and Myers, 1993). The weight of 1000 seeds has been recorded as 0.5 to 0.7 g and the flowers are cross-pollinated by wind (Dzyubenko and Dzyubenko, 2009). Baskin and Baskin (2001) state that the seeds require a period of dormancy and that germination is significantly increased when seeds are after-ripened for two to ten months. According to Hannaway and Myers (2004), this species has weak, slow developing seedlings.
Physiology and Phenology
In his study of the herbage productivity and nutritive value of nine grasses in the Peace River region of northwestern Canada, Fairey (2003) found that A. pratensis, along with Agropyron cristatum, had the earliest seasonal production of dry matter. A. pratensis had high levels of nitrogen in the foliage which may be due to its propensity for accumulating nitrogen and also its ability to accumulate and retain a high proportion of its herbage dry matter as leaf tissue (Fairey, 2003). Herbage nitrogen content and digestibility of all nine grasses, including A. pratensis decreased exponentially during the season.
This grass is a perennial, but there is no information on the longevity of individual plants. As common in perennial grasslands, swards of A. pratensis are probably self-sustained by a combination of perennation of individual plants and the regular replacement of plant populations by new seedlings. Seed banks are perceived to be transient or persistent for only a short time, but this does not seem to have been accurately documented.
A. pratensis starts to grow early in the spring and is one of the earliest cultivated grasses to grow in most soils (Hannaway and Myers, 2004). A. pratensis is highly competitive when growing in its favoured nutrient rich, wet meadows (Nawrocki et al., 2010).
Population Size and Structure
Plants of A. pratensis can produce either an open turf or a dense sod in older stands (Duke, 1983).
It has been suggested that A. pratensis and its cultivars can tolerate frost, heat, low pH, poor soil, salt, shade, viruses, weeds and waterlogging (Duke, 1978). However there is some disagreement with these comments with reports that it grows best on deep, moist and fertile soils. A. pratensis recovers quickly once snow cover retreats or after ice-capping or freeze thaw conditions. However, it is not drought tolerant. Low soil moisture levels cause the species to become semi-dormant until moisture conditions improve.
A. pratensis has a preference for moist or wet places. This is explained by Ellenberg’s (1988) description of the species as ‘a pure helophyte’ (a plant that grows in marsh, partly submerged in water, so that it regrows from buds below the water surface). It has elongated air spaces in the root cortex which helps in the aeration of the roots in waterlogged soil. This aerenchyma is present even when the plant is growing in slightly damp, well aerated soils (Ellenberg, 1988). A. pratensis can compete with Arrhenatherum species and other grasses in waterlogged soils however, its growth on dry soils is often suppressed (Ellenberg, 1988).
Hannaway and Myers (2004) state that in Oregon, this species does best where the climate is both moist and cool. This species is not sensitive to heat or cold, surviving in areas with summer temperatures at or above 38oC or in areas with winter temperatures consistently below zero. A. pratensis also does well at high elevations where frost can occur any month of the year. In addition to this it is well adapted to peaty soils or soils with a high water table but will also survive on clay or loam soils in areas of high rainfall or where irrigation or sub irrigation is available (Hannaway and Myers, 2004). It can also tolerate moderate amounts of acidity or alkalinity and has been suggested that it grows well within a pH range of 5.1-8.4 9 (Kline et al., 1993).
ClimateTop of page
|BS - Steppe climate||Tolerated||> 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation|
|BW - Desert climate||Tolerated||< 430mm annual precipitation|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Tolerated||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer||Tolerated||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)|
|Df - Continental climate, wet all year||Tolerated||Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)|
|Ds - Continental climate with dry summer||Preferred||Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)|
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
The seeds of A. pratensis, at least those collected in the UK, were described by Barnes (1930) as empty or infested with grubs of gall midges. Barnes named the culprits as Contarinia merceri, Dasyneura alopecuri, Stenodiplosis geniculati, and one or two species of Lestodiplosis, all gall-midges in the family Cecidomyidae.
In Oregon, plants are reported to be susceptible to a number of fungal diseases (Hannaway and Myers, 2004). Duke (1983) presents a long list of fungi that have been reported on A. pratensis; Cephalosporium gramineum [Hymenula cerealis], Claviceps microcephala [Claviceps purpurea], C. purpurea, Colletotrichum graminicola (see Glomerella graminicola), Helminthosporium teres [Pyrenophora teres], Mastigosporium album, Pestalozzina soraueriana, P. graminis, P. recondita (recorded as P. perplexans, but see P. tritici), P. rubigo-vera [P. striiformis], Rhynchosporium orthosporum, Rh. secalis, Sclerospora graminicola, Sclerotinia borealis, Scolecotrichum graminis, Ustilago alopecuri, U. alopecurivora.
A number of nematodes have also been isolated from A. pratensis; Heterodera avenae, H. schachtii, Pratylenchus neglectus, P. penetrans, Subanguina radicicola, and Tylenchus hordei [S. radicicola] (Duke, 1983).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
The light and fluffy seeds of A. pratensis may be carried for some distance by air currents.
In Alaska, A. pratensis has been associated with commercial seed of other species and with imported straw, sometimes used as dog bedding (Nawrocki, 2010). Seeds of A. pratensis are very difficult to separate from important seed crops (Hannaway and Myers, 1993). Barkworth et al. (2007) also state that it may have become established from ballast or imported hay.
This species has been deliberately introduced around the world as a meadow or pasture grass.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
Hannaway and Myers (1993) state that A. pratensis is very undesirable in seed producing areas in Oregon as its seed is extremely difficult to separate from some of the important seed crops.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
Rutledge and McLendon (1996) suggest that A. pratensis probably has little impact on ecosystem processes in Alaska. In contrast to this it has been suggests that A. pratensis may increase the density of graminoid layers in disturbed sites in Alaska, although there has as yet been little sign of it changing the density of vegetation in invaded areas (Nawricki, 2010).
Impact on Biodiversity
In northwestern North America, A. pratensis has been found to spread in large montane meadow complexes and wet areas, to the detriment of native plants (OSU Rangeland and Management, 2005). Venterink and Güsewell, (2010) state that this species may compete with native species for nitrogen in the soil. A. pratensis can form dense swards that allow few other grasses and herbaceous species to thrive with it (BSBI, 2015). It can compete with Phleum pratense and a number of other plant species for nutrients (OSU Rangeland Ecology and Management, 2005). The ability to outcompete other species is probably enhanced by the rapid growth of the species early in the spring.
Crawley et al. (1999) found that nearly 40% of experimental plots sown with seed mixtures of 80 dicotyledonous species became dominated by A. pratensis after seven years. When sown in experimental plots A. pratensis could outcompete Arrhenatherum elatius, Festuca rubra and Anthoxanthum odoratum.
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of successional patterns
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
This species is often cultivated as a meadow or pasture grass when, in suitable environments and under appropriate management, it can produce fodder over a long season. In Russia, it is widely used as a hay crop in wetlands (Dzyubenko and Dzyubenko, 2009). A. pratensis is used for forage in Canada and the north-west of the USA. In North America, practically all the seeds for domestic use are harvested in the mountainous meadows of Oregon (Morisawa, 1999). Seeds should be harvested when seeds begin to shatter from the tops of the seed heads. Strippers can be run through the seeds every two to three days as the seed continues to mature. For sowing, seed must be mixed with a carrier such as cracked corn or rice hulls. Kline et al. (1993) recommend the use of seed coated with calcium and magnesium carbonates or phosphates. When the grass is grown for seed production, weed control is important (Kline et al., 1993) and can be helped by proper tillage or use of herbicides before planting.
A. pratensis is presumably of considerable social benefit in those parts of the world where this species is used as a forage crop, such as northern North America and across northern Russia and Asia. Attractive variegated forms of this species occur, such as the varieties 'aureo-variegatus' and 'aureus' that are commonly used as decorative grasses in gardens (Hubbard, 1984).
Kline et al. (1993) suggest that this species may be useful as fodder for wildlife such as deer and elk (Cervus canadensis) in alpine areas. Duke (1983) described A. pratensis forage as having a dry matter content of 26.1%, with 17.1% crude protein, 4.6% fat, 21.5% crude fibre, 10.7% ash and 46% nitrogen-free extract, on a dry matter basis. Hay, with a dry matter content of 85.7 to 88.8%, contained an average of 13.8% crude protein, 2.6% fat, 30.0% crude fibre, 8.6% ash and 45.0% nitrogen-free extract. A study by Kline and Broersma (1983) found that when grown as a fodder grass, yields of A. pratensis increased five times by the application of 90 kg ha-1 of urea applied in spring or after each harvest. Yields did not increase significantly at higher rates of application. However the nitrogen content of A. pratensis increased with increasing levels of applied nitrogen, so that applying nitrogen fertilizer in spring and after each harvest resulted in unsafe harmful levels for cattle at 90 kg ha-1 of applied nitrogen and hazardous levels at 180 kg ha-1 (Kline and Broersma, 1983).
A. pratensis may also be useful for areas where waterfowl nest (Kline et al., 1993) and also provides cover for small animals (OSU Rangeland Ecology and Management, 2005).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
A. pratensis is similar to other species of the same genus including A. geniculatus,A. aequalis and A. magellanicus. A. geniculatus is also native to both North America and Eurasiaand can bedistinguished from A. pratensis by its creeping lower flower stems and shorter spikelets (up to 3 mm long). It usually has shorter and narrower panicles. A. aequalis is also native to North America and Eurasia and has spikelets that are only 2-3 mm long. A. magellanicus is widely distributed, has an inflorescence that is relatively short and is oblong or oval in shape.
A. pratensis is often confused with Phleum pratense but can easily be differentiated as P. pratense has an awn on each glume and not on the lemma and has a well developed palea. In addition, A. pratensis flowers very early in spring, while P. pratense flowers much later, in late spring or early summer. The flower head of P. pratense is spikier to the touch, whilst the flower head of A. pratensis is much softer.
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.
Removal of A. pratensis by hand pulling is possible (Morisawa, 1999). Flooding however is unlikely to be successful since the species can readily endure periods of flooding by fresh or brackish water (Morisawa, 1999).
Thorvaldsson (1996) found that in Iceland, early spring grazing decreased the percentage of A. pratensis in a mixed species grass field. However, it has been suggested that as the grass matures, it becomes less palatable to cattle and as a result, other species may be eaten instead (Kline et al., 1993).
Biological control of this species has not been suggested due to its economic importance as a forage species in several parts of the world.
Glyphosate effectively controls A. pratensis but will kill any other herbaceous species it contacts. For selective control amongst broadleaf plants, haloxyfop, sethoxydim or fluazifop may be effective. Sheley (2007) found that applying chlorsulfuron or metsulfuron-methyl caused no loss in biomass production in A. pratensis.
ReferencesTop of page
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Barnes HF, 1930. On the biology of the gall-midges (Cecidomyidae) attacking meadow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis), including the description of one new species. Annals of Applied Biology, 17(2):339-366.
Baskin C, Baskin J, 2001. Seeds: ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination. San Diego, California, USA: Academic Press, Elsevier, 667 pp.
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Fairey NA, 2003. Herbage productivity and nutritive value of nine grasses in the Peace River region of northwestern Canada. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 84:163-171.
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Jessop J, Dashorst GRM, James FM, 2006. Grasses of South Australia: an illustrated guide to the native and introduced species. Kent Town, Australia: Wakefield Press, 554.
Kil JH, Shim KC, Park SH, Koh KS, Suh MH, Ku YB, Suh SU, Oh HK, Kong HY, 2004. Distributions of naturalized alien plants in South Korea. Weed Technology [Invasive plants in natural and managed systems (IPINAMS) conference, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, November 2003.], 18(Suppl.):1493-1495.
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Nawrocki T, 2010. Meadow foxtail: Alopecurus pratensis L. Alaska, USA. http://aknhp.uaa.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Alopecurus_pratensis_BIO_ALPR3.pdf
Nawrocki T, Flagstad LA, Carlson ML, 2010. Alopecurus pratensis L. Alaska non-native plant invasiveness ranking form. Alaska, USA. http://aknhp.uaa.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Alopecurus_pratensis_RANK_ALPR3.pdf
OSU Rangeland Ecology and management, 2005. Meadow foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis L. Oregon, USA: Oregon State University. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/range/sites/default/files/Meadow_20Foxtail.pdf
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06/04/2015 Original text by:
Ian Popay, Landcare Research, New Zealand
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