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Marsh Foxtail

Alopecurus geniculatus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
90 centimetres tall
Ditches, fields, grassland, marshes, meadows, riversides, water, waterside, wetland.

Green, no petals
6cm flower spikes. Yellow or purplish anthers. Blunt ligules.
A caryopsis.
Bluish-green and 12cm (5 inches) in length. Perennial. Marsh Foxtail is much shorter in height than the similar-looking Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis). Marsh Foxtail also grows in wet habitats whereas Meadow Foxtail prefers dry habitats.
Other Names:
Elbowit Grass, Water Foxtail.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Alopecurus geniculatus is a species of grass known by the common name bent alopecurus. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it can be found in other parts of the world as an introduced species and a common weed. It is a perennial grass with a tufted growth habit, and it can grow up to 90 cm tall. Its leaves are rolled in the bud and have a prominent midrib. The inflorescence is a compact panicle, with spikelets that are awned. This species typically grows in moist to wet soils and can be found in a variety of habitats, including meadows, marshes, and along the shores of rivers and lakes.


Marsh foxtail (Alopecurus geniculatus) is a perennial grass species that is widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. This plant species belongs to the Poaceae family, which includes other well-known grasses such as wheat, corn, and barley. Marsh foxtail is a common plant in wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, and fens.

Appearance and Characteristics

Marsh foxtail typically grows to be about 2 to 3 feet tall, with narrow leaves that are green and hairless. The stems are also green and hairless, with branching flower heads that resemble fox tails. The flowers are arranged in a spike-like structure that can be up to 4 inches long. Marsh foxtail blooms from late spring to early summer, and the flowers can be green or brownish-green.

Habitat and Ecology

Marsh foxtail is typically found in wetland habitats such as marshes, fens, and swamps. It can grow in standing water, as well as in saturated soils. This grass species is adapted to waterlogged soils and can tolerate low oxygen levels. It is often found growing alongside other wetland plants such as cattails, sedges, and rushes.

Marsh foxtail is an important food source for many wetland animals, including waterfowl, muskrats, and beavers. It is also an important plant for stabilizing wetland soils, as its extensive root system helps to hold the soil in place and prevent erosion.


Marsh foxtail has a number of potential uses, both for humans and for livestock. It is sometimes used as a forage crop for grazing animals such as cattle and sheep. The grass is high in protein and can be a good source of nutrition for these animals.

Marsh foxtail also has some medicinal properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used to treat conditions such as diarrhea, edema, and dysentery. Some studies have also suggested that marsh foxtail may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.


Like many wetland species, marsh foxtail is threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Wetlands are often drained or filled in for development purposes, and pollution can also have a negative impact on wetland ecosystems. It is important to protect and conserve these habitats in order to ensure the survival of marsh foxtail and other wetland species.

Marsh foxtail is an important wetland species with a number of potential uses and benefits. It is adapted to grow in waterlogged soils and provides important ecosystem services such as soil stabilization and habitat for wildlife. As wetland habitats continue to be threatened by human activities, it is important to take steps to protect and conserve these important ecosystems and the species that depend on them, including marsh foxtail.

More Information about Marsh Foxtail

Marsh foxtail is also known for its ability to accumulate heavy metals from contaminated soils, which makes it a useful tool for phytoremediation projects. This grass species has been shown to effectively remove pollutants such as lead, cadmium, and zinc from contaminated soils, helping to clean up these areas and make them safe for human use.

In addition, marsh foxtail is a popular plant for ornamental purposes. Its attractive spike-like flower heads and narrow, upright growth habit make it a desirable addition to gardens and landscaping projects. However, it is important to ensure that any marsh foxtail plants used for ornamental purposes are obtained from reputable sources, and that they are not harvested from wild populations.

Despite its many uses and benefits, marsh foxtail is considered a weed in some areas where it has been introduced. Invasive populations of marsh foxtail can outcompete native wetland plants and disrupt the delicate balance of wetland ecosystems. As such, it is important to carefully manage and control the spread of this species in areas where it is not native.

Overall, marsh foxtail is a fascinating and versatile plant species with many important ecological, agricultural, and medicinal uses. As our understanding of this species continues to grow, it is likely that we will discover even more ways to utilize and benefit from this valuable wetland plant.

In terms of cultivation, marsh foxtail can be propagated through seed or division of established plants. It prefers moist to wet soils and can tolerate some shade, but grows best in full sun. It is important to ensure that marsh foxtail is not planted in areas where it can become invasive and disrupt native plant communities.

In traditional medicine, marsh foxtail has been used to treat a range of ailments, including fever, jaundice, and urinary tract infections. It has also been used as a diuretic and astringent, and is believed to have antibacterial properties.

Recent research has suggested that marsh foxtail may have potential as a biofuel crop. The grass is high in cellulose and lignin, which are key components in the production of biofuels such as ethanol and butanol. By converting marsh foxtail into biofuels, we could potentially reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In conclusion, marsh foxtail is a versatile and valuable wetland species with a wide range of uses and benefits. From its important ecological roles in wetland ecosystems to its potential as a medicinal herb, forage crop, ornamental plant, and biofuel source, this species has much to offer. However, it is important to manage and control the spread of marsh foxtail in areas where it is not native in order to protect native plant communities and maintain the delicate balance of wetland ecosystems.


Marsh Foxtail filmed near Haigh Hall in Lancashire on the 27th April 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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