Squirrel-tailed Fescue

Vulpia bromoides (L.) Gray

Synonyms - Festuca bromoides, Vulpia sciuroides.

Family: - Poaceae


Vulpia honours the German chemist J. Vulpius.

Squirrel-tailed Fescue refers to the somewhat bushy, one-sided seed head that resembles a squirrel's tail.

Other Names:

Brome Fescue

Rat's-tail Fescue

Silver grass

Silvery grass


Squirrel-tailed Fescue is a small, annual tufted grass with narrow, shiny leaves usually to 400 mm tall but may grow up to 700 mm high. The fairly narrow one-sided inflorescence turns silvery on maturity and has numerous stalked spikelets each with 4-10 florets and is held well above the uppermost leaf sheath. The spikelets are 10-30 mm long and the lower glume is awnless and a half to three quarters the length of the awnless upper glume. The outer segment of each floret (lemma) has a straight bristle (awn).

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




First leaves:



Alternate. Emerging leaf rolled in the bud.

Blade - 10-150 mm long by 0.5-3 mm wide. Fine, lax to stiff, shiny, bristle like, flat or inrolled. Appears hairless or with tiny hairs <0.25 mm long on the upper side, rough near the tip and on edges. Rough to touch due to small fine bristles. (Basal leaves tend to carry more hairs than stem leaves.)

Ligule - 0.3-0.5 mm long, membranous, somewhat flat topped or asymmetric.

Auricles - None.

Sheath - Rounded on the back. Base usually white or green but occasionally reddish. Hairless.

Stem leaves -


Erect or ascending from the base, usually bent at the nodes. Tufted or may be reduced to a single stem. (20-)50-600(-700) mm. Hairless, slender, stiff, strongly ribbed, often branched near the base, 2-4 smooth hairless nodes. Loosely tufted or solitary. Elongate in spring.

Flower head:

Tends to be one sided. Narrow panicle 10-120 mm long excluding the awns. Flattened. Carried well above the leaves and upper most sheath (exerted). Erect or slightly nodding with erect or slightly spreading branches. Main axis (rachis) rough to touch and hairless. Reduced to a spike or even a single spikelet in stressed plants.


Spikelets - 6-14 mm long by 4 mm wide excluding the awns, wedge shaped, laterally flattened, 4-7(-10) flowered. Disarticulates above the glumes and between the florets.

Florets - Bisexual, all similar or upper 1 or 2 florets reduced, partly overlapping each other, not hairy on the margins, extend into a fine, straight, rough awn to 13 mm long. Florets on a 0.6-6 mm long stalk (pedicel) that is hairless and rough to touch.

Glumes - Unequal, spear shaped, finely pointed. Lower glume 1.5-6 mm long, 1 nerved. Upper glume 33-100% longer at (3.5-)6-8(-10) mm long and 3 nerved. Both glumes are awnless.

Palea - Almost the same size as the lemma, 4-7 mm long. 2 keeled and the keels are rough to touch.

Lemma - 5-8(-9) mm long excluding the awn, 5 nerved. Narrowly elliptical smooth and hairless or rough to touch on the upper half. Rounded on the back and tapering into a rough straight awn that is 5-10(-13) mm long and rough to touch. Edges finely incurved.

Stamens -

Anthers -



Narrowly oval. About 3 mm long (excluding the awns) by 1 mm wide, concave. The seed has a rough bristle or awn about 4-5 mm long.



Key Characters:

Lower glume at least half the length of the upper glume.

Upper glume 3.5-8 mm long and unawned

Lemma glabrous on the margins.

Panicle exceeds the leaf sheath.

Adapted from T. Macfarlane, S. Jacobs.


Life cycle:

Annual. Germinates autumn/winter grows slowly through winter and matures rapidly with profuse flowering in spring. Flowers in October-December.



It has very poor nutritive value when dry.


Flowering times:

October to December in Perth.

June to January in SW Western Australia.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Abundant in years of high winter-spring rainfall.

Origin and History:

Eurasia and North Africa.



Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium



Mediterranean. Temperate.


Recorded from a range of soil types. Tends to be more abundant on sandy soils and better drained soils.

Plant Associations:

Recorded from a range of plant communities.



Fodder, of marginal quality, 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. Weed of pasture. Dense fibrous root system hinder seed bed preparations.

Seeds cause vegetable fault in wool and irritate the skin, mouth and eyes of sheep.

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


Not reported to be toxic.


Not declared in Australia.

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 it can regrow and set seed quickly. Regular, close mowing, cultivation, manual removal or herbicides eventually will provide control.

1 L/ha of simazine(500g/L) applied in early winter when the Squirrel-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 and 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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