Content Detail

Foxtail barley is a grass native to much of Illinois. This short grass tolerates a wide range of tough conditions. It should be used with care as it readily self-seeds and can become weedy.


  • Family (English) Grass
  • Family (botanic) Poaceae
  • Tree or plant type Grass, Perennial
  • Native locale Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium plant (12-24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Road salt
  • Season of interest midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Other
  • Shape or form Upright

Size and form:

Foxtail barley grows 1 to 2 feet tall with an upright form. When in flower and fruit, the whole plant takes on a windswept look. It is a clumping grass, but will self-seed.

Native geographic location and habitat:

This grass is native to much of North America, including central and northern Illinois. It is often found in difficult sites and in sites without larger plants that might compete with it.

Leaf description:

Light green leaves alternate along the stem and are 4 to 5 inches long.

Flower description:

Flowering occurs in late spring to early summer. Tiny flowers are held in foxtail-like spikes that feature very long 2 to 4 inches awns (bristles). The flower spike is green with tones of pink or purple.

Fruit description:

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) are held in the long-awned spikes. As the fruit matures, they turn brown. The spikes that hold the fruit will start to break apart in late summer and autumn.

Plant care:

This grass prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil. It can tolerate heat, salt, dry sites, and alkaline soils. This is a cool season grass, so its most active growth occurs in spring. Unlike other cool season grasses, it does not provide winter interest as the plant tends to fall apart late in the season. Foxtail barley is usually a short-lived perennial and is often used as an annual in the garden. It readily self-seeds.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

No serious pests, but it should be used with care as it readily self-seeds and can become weedy.


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