Article and photo by Cheryl Curtis
It looks like a feather, blowing in the wind on my walk with my beloved hound Hutch. But Foxtail grass (Hordeum jubatum), also known as Foxtail Barley, can be a menace. According to the Province of Alberta’s noxious weed list (https://www.alberta.ca/provincially-regulated-weeds.aspx), Foxtail does not meet the criteria. Why should we care if Foxtail is growing in our neighbourhoods? Calgary is a very animal friendly city, with a high number of residents owning dogs. The seed of the mature Foxtail plant can be toxic to dogs. Dogs will sniff as they walk and can inhale the seed or get it in their mouths. Whether in the mouth or on the skin, the seed has the ability to burrow over time, and can cause serious infection and abscesses. I have seen it growing along highways, the medians of city roads, and along the sidewalk on my neighbourhood walk. Given the City of Calgary does not use herbicides anymore, there is nothing stopping the movement of this grass. However, it is troublesome enough to farmers for Alberta Agriculture to post a PDF on how to control direct seeding (https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex856/$file/519-15.pdf?OpenElement). In areas that are not tilled, like your front lawn, Foxtail can easily take hold because its shallow roots and its need for water are minimal. What can homeowners do? If you see it in your neighbourhood, pull it up, talk to everyone you meet about how harmful this grass can be to dogs (and wildlife too). The best way to control it is to pull it up before it goes to seed (when it is green). As it gets dryer and turns white, it will be spreading seeds.