Foxtail barley

Foxtail barley in flower.

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.

Botanical name:

Hordeum jubatum

All Common Names:

Foxtail barley, squirrel-tail grass

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Grass,
  • Perennial

Native Locale:

  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Container,
  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border

Size Range:

  • Medium plant (12-24 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Other

Shape or Form:

  • Upright

More Information:

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.

Plant Care

Prefers full sun and a 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 will readily self-seed.

Disease, pests, and problems

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

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to much of North America, including central and northenr Illinois.
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 mature, they turn brown.  The spikes that hold the fruit will start to break apart in late summer and autumn.




Location of Hordeum jubatum (Foxtail barley) at the Arboretum

We do not seem to have this in our living collection.