Yellow Foxtail

Biological Name:

Setaria pumila (Yellow-Foxtail)

Natural Habitat:

Yellow-foxtail is a type of grass native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, meadows, and wetlands.


Yellow-Foxtail is a grass that is native to North America. It is similar to cultivated foxtail but is generally considered to be a weed. It has long narrow leaves and produces small foxtail-like seeds.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Is yellow foxtail invasive?
A: This grass can spread aggressively in disturbed areas and is often found along roadsides and in fields and pastures. Its seeds are an important food source for songbirds and upland game birds. Yellow foxtail is considered a significant weed of crops and is classified as noxious or prohibited in many states.

Q: How do you control yellow foxtail in pastures?
A: Small infestations of foxtail should be spot treated, while larger infestations require whole pasture renovation. Existing foxtail plants should be killed with an herbicide. A no-herbicide alternative is repeated tillage and rest during summer heat.

Q: What happens if foxtail is left untreated?
A: The danger of foxtails goes beyond simple irritation. Because these tough seeds don’t break down inside the body, an embedded foxtail can lead to serious infection for your dog. It can even lead to death if left untreated. The seeds can be hard to find in your dog’s fur.

Q: Are yellow foxtails native?
A: Yellow foxtail is native to Eurasia, but is common throughout the western U.S. It is often a serious problem in spring seeded alfalfa and in thin, weak stands of grass hay and pastures.

Q: Do foxtails affect humans?
A: Foxtails in the eye or eyelid may be readily visible, but do not attempt to remove it as this can cause more damage. Other symptoms that may indicate a foxtail problem include pawing at the face, eyes or ears; coughing; shaking; tilting their head; or biting/licking the groin area.

Q: How poisonous is foxtail?
A: In the worst case scenarios, an embedded foxtail can make it to vital organs, including the lungs, spinal cord or brain, heart, and abdominal organs, causing symptoms specific to that organ. In very bad cases, surgery may be required to remove foxtails or treat infection resulting from embedded foxtails.

Q: What is the difference between yellow and green foxtail?
A: Yellow foxtail can be distinguished from green foxtail by the presence of long sparse hairs at the base of the leaf blade on the upper surface and a lack of hairs on the leaf sheath. Green foxtail has a smooth upper leaf blade surface with no long hairs at the base, and leaf sheaths have hairy margins.

Q: Is yellow foxtail poisonous?
A: Foxtail grass isn’t dangerous because of toxicity: the problem here is with the seed awns. The awns are very sharp, and have barbs that allow them to burrow into and under pets’ skin. Because of the way the barbs are curved, they do not work their way out, but keep moving deeper and deeper into the body.

Q: Can cows eat yellow foxtail?
A: Foxtail and many other barley grasses have sharply-barbed awns that can cause sores at the nose, eyes, and mouth of livestock. Livestock can safely graze foxtail barley prior to seed development. Forage value of this grass is fair to good at this time.

Q: What kills yellow foxtail?
A: Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that will kill foxtail as well as most all other plants (grasses and broad leaved).

Q: Do foxtails come back every year?
A: Foxtail is a summer annual grass, meaning it grows from seed in the spring and dies in the fall. To come back year after year, it drops hundreds and hundreds of seeds into the soil. Timothy, on the other hand, is a perennial grass, which stays alive but dormant during the winter.

Q: Do you cut down the yellow foxtail fern fronds?
A: Keep the foxtail fern looking tidy by pruning out dying stems (cut them back to the soil). Pinch 1 inch off the tips of stems periodically to encourage new growth. Depending on the thickness of the stems, use snips or shears.

Q: How do you control yellow foxtails?
A: The best way to deal with foxtail weed in your lawn is to stop it before it starts. In the spring, apply a crabgrass pre-emergent, like Scotts® WeedEx™ Prevent with Halts®, which will prevent foxtail, as well as crabgrass and other listed grassy weeds, from sprouting.

Q: Is yellow foxtail annual or perennial?
A: Description. Yellow foxtail (Setaria pumila) is a bright green clumping annual or perennial weed common in turf and pasture areas. The seedhead can be distinguished from that of green foxtail because it is thicker, and has shorter bristles.

Q: Can foxtail ferns survive winter?
A: Can foxtail ferns survive winter? The foxtail fern grows outside in winter if you live in the USDA zones 9 to 11. But if you live in colder climates, we recommend growing them in containers to move indoors as it is not frost resistant. In zones 9 to 11, they will die back in winter, but the rootballs remain growing.

Q: Do foxtails spread?
A: What are Foxtails, Anyway? Foxtail weeds are actually a type of annual weed or grass that spreads from seed—and it can take over quickly! Foxtail grass can grow up to 10 inches high and is identifiable with its thick “foxtail” bundle of seeds.

Q: Can foxtail ferns take full sun?
A: The foxtail fern takes full sun to partial shade, but grows more densely in full sun. This plant likes well-draining, amended soil for optimum growth. The foxtail fern has an extensive root system with large tubers that can store water and food during periods of drought.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.