Sand Fescue

Vulpia fasciculata (Forssk.) Samp.

Synonyms - Vulpia membranacea

Family: - Poaceae


Vulpia honours the German chemist J. Vulpius.

Sand Fescue - because it tends to occur on sandy soils.

Other Names:

Dune Fescue because it grows on sandy dunes.

One-glume Fescue because the lower glume is very small compared to the upper glume.

Silver Grass because the seed heads are silvery at maturity.


Sand Fescue is a small, tufted annual grass to 700 mm tall with fine, shiny leaves and a narrow, one-sided, green seed head in spring that turns silvery in summer. The inflorescence (seed head) is held only shortly above the uppermost leaf sheath and has numerous stalked spikelets, 25-45 mm long, each with 2-12 florets. The outer segment of each floret (lemma) has a straight bristle (awn). The upper glume has an awn and is more than 4 times the length of the lower glume.

It is native to Europe and flowers from late winter to early summer. They are commonly called Silver Grass and are weeds of agricultural land and disturbed areas.




First leaves:



Alternate. Emerging leaf rolled in the bud.

Blade - Fine. Stiff. Shiny. 10-100(-140) long by 0.5-3 mm wide. Lower surface usually hairless. Lower surface with small, <0.25 mm long hairs on prominent ribs. Rough near tip and on edges. Tip pointed. Edges parallel and usually in rolled. Base of leaves white or green.

Ligule - 0.5 mm long. Membranous, flat topped, somewhat jagged (erose).

Auricles - None.

Sheath - Rounded on the back, rolled overlapping and hairless.


Erect. 50-700 mm. Tufted. Elongate in spring.

Flower head:

Erect, one sided, dense, green or purplish turning silvery with age. 10-120(-200) mm long and 25 mm wide excluding the awns. Exerted beyond the top leaf sheath at maturity. Flattened. Seeds have a rough bristle. Breaks (disarticulates) above the glumes and between the florets.


Spikelets - 2-12 flowered, (1-)12-16(-18) mm long by 0.5 mm wide excluding the awns. 5-7 florets. Breaks with the floret stalk (pedicel) still attached to the floret.
Florets - Lower 2-3 female, upper ones male. Stalk (pedicelled). (Some texts have lower ones as bisexual)

Glumes - Unequal. Lower glume very short, 0.25-1.5(-4) mm long, 1 nerved, narrow and taper to fine tip, awnless, hairless.
Upper glume at least 4 times the length of lower glume, 12-18 mm long, 3 nerved, narrowly egg shaped, keeled, firm except for the membranous edges. Tapers to a straight, rough, hairless awn that is 1-15 mm long.
Palea - 7-9 mm long, keel is rough to touch.
Lemma - of female florets narrowly egg shaped, 8-16 mm long, keeled and tapering to an awn. Awn is fine, straight, rough and 18-26 mm long. Keel is rough to touch. Lemma of male florets narrower and smaller.
Stamens -
Anthers -



Narrowly oval. 4-12 mm long by 1 mm wide excluding the awn. Awn 6-24 mm long or slightly less than double the length of the seed. Back distinctly keeled.



Key Characters:

Upper glume 12-18 mm long excluding the awn.

Upper glume awned.

Upper glume at least 4 time longer than the lower glume.

Lemma usually >7 mm long.

Callus of lower lemma 0.5 mm or longer.

Adapted from S. Jacobs and T. Macfarlane


Life cycle:

Annual. Germinates autumn/winter. Matures rapidly. Flowers from October-December.



By seed.

Flowering times:

October to November in Perth.

Spring in NSW.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:



Population Dynamics:

Origin and History:

Eurasia and North Africa.



Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium





Prefers sandy soils.

Plant Associations:

Clover based pastures.




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


Weed of crops causing yield reductions due to competition. Carries root diseases (Take all) of cereals. Weed of pasture. Dense fibrous root system hinder seed bed preparations.

Seeds cause vegetable fault in 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.

In cropping situations, trifluralin can provide reasonable suppression in some crops.


75-120 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.

In Clover based pastures, 1 L/ha of simazine(500g/L) plus 500 mL paraquat(200g/L) applied in early winter when the Sand Fescue has 2-6 leaves provides reasonable control in clover based pastures but reduces winter pasture production. Use only on pastures with more than 30% clover in the sward.

Herbicide resistance:

Tolerant to Group A grass selective herbicides and triazines.

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.


Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne).

Harden, Gwen J. (1991). Flora of NSW. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney). Volume . P607. Diagram.

Marchant et al (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P997.

Moerkerk, M.R. and Barnett, A.G. (1998). More Crop Weeds. R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne. P47. Diagrams. Photos.


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