Plate 4; Seed, Plate 26, Fig. 8.
Botanical description: Meadow Foxtail is a perennial much resembling Timothy. It has a short rootstock, which produces scaly, underground runners. The ends of the runners develop into stems and leafy shoots. If the runners are very short, as they generally are in comparatively dry soils, the whole plant becomes tufted almost like Timothy. If the runners grow to any considerable length, as they often do in wet and loose soil, the tufts are looser and less marked. The stems are from two to four feet high, sometimes knee-bent and rooting at the base. They are smooth and leafy to above the middle. The bulk of the leaves is produced by the basal shoots. They are generally long, broad and soft, the sheaths of the upper ones often being swollen.
The flowers are in a spike rather like that of Timothy. The spike of Meadow Foxtail can, however, always be easily recognized by its softness; that of Timothy is rough. The softness of the spike, which has given the plant its name, is due to the spikelets being covered with long, soft hairs. Each spikelet contains a single flower enclosed within two acutely keeled glumes, which are fastened together at their base. The flower carries an awn at its back, the awns projecting above the top of the spikelets and giving the spike a bristly appearance. Fertilization being accomplished by means of air currents, there is a chance for self- as well as cross-fertilization. The latter is the more common on account of the arrangement of the stamens and pistil during flowering.
Geographical distribution: Meadow Foxtail is indigenous to the greater part of Europe, northern Africa and central and northern Asia. It is distributed throughout eastern and central Canada and is now grown in practically all European countries. It occurs naturally in moist meadows, marsh lands, along ditches and streams with low banks, and generally in moist soil rich in nutritive matter.
Cultural conditions: Although preferring wet localities, Meadow Foxtail cannot be grown successfully where water remains stagnant the greater part of the year. It thrives best in low-lying clays and loams which are temporarily flooded. It is extremely resistant to frost and is regarded as the earliest grass for eastern Canada. It starts early in spring and has reached full development before most other grasses have made appreciable growth. It is useful wherever early pasture or hay is required.
Plate 4 Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis L ).
Agricultural value: If grown for hay it should be cut when in bloom. The stems then contain a great amount of sugar, making the hay sweet and nutritive. After flowering, this sugar is used for the formation of the seed and the feeding value of the hay decreases rapidly. If grown for pasture, Meadow Foxtail furnishes an abundance of excellent fodder early in the season when there is nothing else to graze on. All kinds of stock like it. Where the land is suitable, it is no doubt one of the most valuable grasses. It is practically always grown in a mixture.
Seed: Meadow Foxtail ripens its seed very quickly but rather unevenly. This makes harvesting comparatively difficult. In many places in Europe the seed is stripped off by hand. Gathered in such a way, it is dried in an airy place and turned daily for about two weeks. If not thus treated, germination will be rather low. Commercial seed is generally of low vitality, owing to uneven maturing. To secure a large amount of good seed, cut the crop a little before full maturity, make the sheaves small, stand them nine or ten together in round shocks and leave them to ripen. When grown alone, twenty to twenty-five pounds of seed to the acre are sufficient.
Good seed is straw-coloured and weighs from six to twelve pounds to the bushel.
It hath been noted that Seed of a year old is the best, and of two or three years is worse; and that which is more old is quite barren, though (no doubt) some Seeds and Grains last better than others. - Bacon, Natural History, 1625.
There is no storm that may them deface. Nor hail, nor snow, nor wind nor frostes keen. - Chaucer, The Flower and the Leaf, 1360.
Meadow lands should be selected in a rich, or else a moist or well-watered, soil, and care should be taken to draw the rain-water upon them from the highroad. The best method of ensuring a good crop of grass, is first to plough the land, and then to harrow it: but, before passing the harrow over it, the ground should be sprinkled with such seed as may have fallen from the bay in the hay-lofts and mangers The land should not be watered, however, the first year, nor should cattle be put to graze upon it before the second hay-harvest, for fear lest the blade should be torn up by the roots, or be trodden down and stunted in its growth. - Pliny, Natural History, 23-79.