This section is from the book "A Guide To The Poisonous Plants And Weed Seeds Of Canada And The Northern United States", by Robert Boyd Thomson, H. B. Sifton. Also available from Amazon: A guide to the poisonous plants and weed seeds of Canada and the northern United States.
Other Common Names: Squirrel-tail Grass, Skunk-grass, Wild Barley, and improperly in the Prairie Provinces, Foxtail.
No poisonous compound is contained in this grass, but it causes a great deal of trouble to horses, sheep and cattle owing to its sharp awns, which break and enter the mucous membranes of the mouth and gums. Horses are troubled much more than cattle, as their mouths are more tender. Inflammation, ulceration and formation of pus follow, and in some cases the gums are diseased to such an extent that the teeth become loose and fall out. A quotation from Dr. S. H. Johnson by Pammel, states: "I have seen lips eaten through, and tongues eaten almost off by the grass."
The plant is a biennial, or winter annual, growing in waste places and neglected fields, along roadsides and on the open prairie, especially on moist slopes and on cut-over sloughs. Its fibrous roots form compact, tangled masses. The stems are in clumps or in compact formations, from six inches to two feet tall, with slender leaves and dense fruiting spikes, turning a faded yellow early in the season. Skunk-tail resembles ordinary Foxtail or Millet, but when the mature plant is once seen it will be always recognized by its longer slender awns which stand out conspicuously from the head giving a fancied resemblance to a skunk's tail. The spike is jointed, each joint having three flowers, the centre one, only, fertile and producing a seed. The fruits, which it sheds by breaking at the joints, are each accompanied by seven long, barbed awns in addition to the two small bristles to which the sterile flowers are reduced.
Fig. 5. - Skunk-tail Grass - Hordeum jubatum.
The plant should never be allowed to seed, and great care should be taken not to feed hay which contains mature plants. When young it is harmless.
The awns of Common Barley, Little Barley, Hordeum secaliniun Schreb., and Wild Barley, Hordeum murinum L., produce the same effects to a lesser degree. These plants are closely related to Skunk-tail Grass. The two latter are weeds troublesome in the West.