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Quick facts

Common name(s): cocksfoot grass, orchard grass, cat grass

Scientific name: Dactylis glomerata

Family: Poaceae

Origin: native

Flowering season: June to September

Habitat: meadows and roadsides

What does cocksfoot grass look like?

Cocksfoot grass is perennial and commonly grows in dense tussocks which can be 20–140cm tall. Its key characteristic is a flattened stem base which separates this grass from others.

Leaves: grey-green in colour, hairless, approximately 20–50cm long and 1.5cm wide.

Flowers: have a distinctive tufted, triangular flowerhead made up from several clumps of spikelets which hold the flowers. The colour of the flowers can change, depending on the time of year, but they are mostly green with red or purple ends. The flowers turn a pale brown when ready to seed.

Seedhead: dense and spiky when first emerging, becoming open and branched as it matures. Seeds are very small, with more than a million per kilogram.

Where to find cocksfoot grass

It is common in meadows and along roadsides across the UK, and though present throughout the year, it is best seen from June to September when flowering.

Cocksfoot grass is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, although it is also found in Australia, New Zealand and North America where it was introduced.

A harvest mouse climbing on cocksfoot grass

Credit: Ross Hoddinott / naturepl.com

Value to wildlife

Long grass species like cocksfoot are important for wildlife.

They are:

  • food sources for caterpillars like the gatekeeper and meadow brown; while the seeds are eaten by finches and gamebirds
  • pollen sources for pollinators such as honeybees which will favour cocksfoot pollen over that of many wild flowers
  • habitats for wildlife: bumblebees build their nests in the long grass; carder bees nest in holes, hidden by the stalks; they are nesting sites for small mammals; and habitats for amphibians and reptiles.

Did you know?

The clumped flowers and seed heads are said to resemble a cock's foot, hence the name.

Uses of cocksfoot grass

Cocksfoot grass is grown for hay and a grazing plant for livestock. It was very popular in the 18th century for its drought resistance and improvement of soil by increasing humus content.

Threats and conservation

There are limited threats to cocksfoot grass as it is still important to agriculture. However, meadow habitats are dwindling which could cause an issue for cocksfoot in the future.

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