Rat-tailed Fescue

Vulpia myuros (L.) C.Gmelin

Synonyms - Festuca myuros.

Family: - Poaceae.


Vulpia honours J.S. Vulpius (1760-1840) a German chemist.

Other Names:

Rat's tail Fescue

Sand Fescue

Silver grass.


Rat-tailed Fescue is a small, tufted annual grass, 100-700 mm tall with fine, shiny leaves and a narrow, one-sided, green seed head in spring that turns silvery in summer and droops. The inflorescence is held only shortly above, or more commonly is partially enclosed by the uppermost leaf sheath. The inflorescence has numerous stalked spikelets each with 4-7 florets. The outer segment of each floret (lemma) has a straight bristle (awn). The spikelets are 15-25 mm long and the lower glume is less than half the length of the upper glume. Both glumes are awnless or the upper glume may have a short awn less than 1 mm long.

It is native to Europe and flowers from late winter to early summer. Commonly called Silver Grass it is a weed of agricultural land and disturbed areas.




First leaves:



Alternate. Emerging leaf rolled in the bud.

Fine. Stiff. Shiny. Base of leaves white or green.

Blade - 20-150 mm long by 0.5-3 mm wide, flat or somewhat rolled. With very fine bristles on the edges. Surface shiny with short, <0.5 mm long hairs on upper side or hairless. (Basal leaves tend to be more hairy and stem leaves maybe hairless). Tip pointed. Edges parallel sided. Base sheathing.

Ligule - Short membrane, 0.1-1 mm long, flat topped, ragged (erose).

Auricles - None.

Sheath - Hairless. Rounded on the back, rolled and overlapping. Covers stem to the base of the panicle.


Erect, 100-700 mm. Tufted, usually bent at the nodes. Elongates in spring. Appears to have no ribs.

Flower head:

(20-)50- 300 mm long excluding the awns, but may be reduced to just a few spikelets. Narrow, one sided, spike like, panicle that remains partially enclosed in the upper most sheath or only shortly exerted at maturity. Erect or often arched or nodding. May be interrupted towards the base. Main axis (rachis) angular and usually rough to touch (scabrous), branches held close to the main axis. Green or purplish turning silvery with age.

Breaks (disarticulates) above the glumes and between the florets.


Spikelets - 7-10 mm long excluding awns. Turned to one side. 3-7 florets.

Florets - Hairless. Florets on short, rough to touch, hairless stalks (pedicels) that are 1-6 mm long. Upper 1 or 2 reduced or empty. Breaks beneath the lemma at maturity.

Glumes - Persistent, unequal. Taper to the tip. Lower one less than half (15-40%) the length of the upper one. Lower glume 0.5-2(-3.5) mm long, 1 nerved, pointed tip. Upper glume 3-5(-8) mm long, 1-3 nerved. Has small bristles.

Palea - Equal to lemma, 5-10 mm long, 2 keeled.

Lemma - May be rough to touch but not hairy. Narrowly elliptical, often with incurved edges, rounded on the back. 5 nerved, 4-6(-10) mm long excluding awn with a straight awn that is 9-14(-20) mm long and rough to touch especially near the top. The lemma is hairy towards the top in the megalura form.

Stamens -

Anthers -



Narrowly oval, somewhat angular in cross section. 4-8 mm long by 0.5-1 mm wide with a rough, bristly awn, 4-10 mm long. Surface grooved.


Dense fibrous.

Key Characters:

Spikelets with 3-6 female florets.

Upper glume 3-4 times longer than the small lower glume.

Upper glume 3-8 mm long and unawned.

Lemma of female florets 5 nerved.

Lemma glabrous on the margins (ciliate in V. myuros forma megalura).

Panicle partly enclosed within the sheath.

Adapted from T. Macfarlane and S. Jacobs.


Life cycle:

Annual. 100-700mm tall. Germinates autumn/winter. Flowers in July-November.



Flowering times:

July to November in Perth.

July to December in WA.

Spring in NSW.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:




Stubble reduces the growth of pasture species.

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Origin and History:

Europe, North Africa, Asia.



Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium





Prefers sandy soils and gravels.

Tolerates a wide range of soil types.

Plant Associations:

Clover based pasture.



Little fodder value when dry.

Does not host Root Lesion Nematode (Pratylenchus thornei) 63.


Weed of crops causing yield reductions due to competition. Carries root diseases of cereals. Dense fibrous root systems hinders seed bed preparation.

Weed of pasture and disturbed areas.

Seeds irritate the skin, mouth and eyes of stock and contaminate wool.

It is a poor host for Root Lesion Nematode (Pratylenchus neglectus) allowing some build up of numbers 63.


Not recorded as toxic.



Management and Control:

Heavy grazing generally leads to greater infestations as other grasses disappear from the sward. Under heavy grazing regimes, 1 L/ha of simazine(500g/L) applied in early winter will usually keep an infestation under control.

In cropping rotations, a triazine tolerant Canola (or Lupins treated with simazine plus top up) every 3-5 years usually keeps it at insignificant levels.


100-150 plants per square metre typically cause 5-10% yield loss in Cereals and Canola.

Eradication strategies:

Prevent seed set for 1 or 2 years. This can be difficult because it can set seed quite quickly and can regrow and set seed quickly. Regular, close mowing, cultivation, manual removal or herbicides will eventually provide control.

1 L/ha of simazine(500g/L) applied in early winter when the Rat-tailed Fescue has 2-6 leaves provides high levels of control and causes little damage to clovers, other emerged grasses, perennials or native plants.

In clover based pastures a mixture of paraquat plus simazine is often used for broader spectrum control of other weeds, especially grasses.

Herbicide resistance:

Tolerant to Group A grass selective herbicides.

Biological Control:


Related plants:

There are 6 recognised Vulpia species in WA.

Vulpia bromoides (L.) Gray (Squirrel-tailed Fescue) has an upper glume that is awnless and less than twice the length of the lower glume.

The lower glume is 1.5-4.5 mm long and awnless.

The upper glume is 3.5-8 mm long, 3 nerved an awnless.

The inflorescence is held well above the uppermost leaf sheath (exerted).

The spikelets are 10-30 mm long.

The stems are more strongly ribbed and the leaf blades are broader than in V. myuros.

Vulpia fasciculata (Forssk.) Fritsch (Sand Fescue) has an upper glume that is awned and more than five times the length of the lower glume.

The lower glume is 0.1-2.5 mm long and awnless.

The upper glume is 10-18 mm long and awned.

The inflorescence held only shortly above the uppermost leaf sheath.

The spikelets are 25-45 mm long.

It has a few very fine hairs that can be seen under a microscope on the leaf margins.

In the older literature this may be referred to as Vulpia membranacea which is no longer current.

Vulpia muralis (Kunth) Nees

Vulpia myuros (L.) C.C.Gmel. (Rat-tailed Fescue) has an upper glume that is awnless and more than twice the length of the lower glume.

The lower glume is 0.5-2.5 mm long and awnless.

The upper glume is 3-8 mm long, 1-3 nerved and awnless or very shortly awned.

The inflorescence is held only shortly above or more commonly it is partially enclosed in the upper leaf sheath.

The spikelets are 15-25 mm long.

The stems are less strongly ribbed and the leaf blades are narrower then in V. bromoides.

Vulpia myuros forma megalura (Nutt.) Stace & R.Cotton has hairs on the upper part of the lemma.

In the older literature this may referred to as Vulpia megalura which is no longer current.

Vulpia myuros (L.) C.C.Gmel. forma myuros

Vulpia ciliata (Fringed Fescue) occurs in SA, VIC and NSW.

Plants of similar appearance:

Annual Ryegrass, Barley Grass, Brome Grass, Darnel, Fountain Grass, Guildford Grass, Quaking Grass, Volunteer Cereals, Wild Oats, Toad Rush, Winter Grass.


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