Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)

Family:

Grass Family (Poaceae)

Other Names:

cock's foot, cocksfoot, cocksfoot grass.

Origin and Distribution:

Orchardgrass was introduced to North America from Europe as a forage grass over 200 years ago. Since then, it has spread through much of the U.S. and is still cultivated for hay and pasture. It can be found in fields, waste areas, orchards and roadsides. In Ohio, orchardgrass is distributed throughout the state, and is cultivated in the southern regions. This grass is shade and drought tolerant, and does well in both rich and poor soils. However, it does not tolerate flooding.

Plant Description:

Orchardgrass is a coarse, clump-forming, cool-season perennial grass that starts growing early in the spring. It produces a very characteristically shaped flower head, consisting of rounded clumps of flowers that are borne on a few, stiff branches which jut out to the sides. This species reproduces by seeds, and clumps can expand by producing new shoots (tillers) from the base of existing stems.

  • Root System:

    Orchardgrass produces an extensive, fibrous root system. Stems - Stems are erect, round and smooth, and grow 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall (sometimes up to 5 feet).

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are folded in the bud. The leaf blade (free part of the leaf) is light green to dark blue-green, hairless, somewhat rough on the upper and lower surfaces and margins, and sharply folded (V-shaped in cross-section). Leaf blades can be 3 to 12 inches long (or more) and 1/8 to 1/3 inch wide. The leaf sheath (the part of the leaf surrounding the stem) is hairless, rough, and flattened, forming a sharp crease. The ligule (projection inside on the top of the sheath) is membranous, finely toothed, rounded to pointed and relatively long (1/6 to 1/3 inch long). Auricles (appendages at the top of the sheath) are absent

  • Flowers:

    The flower head (2 to 8 inches long) is produced at the top of the stem and is composed of a few stiff branches that bear dense, coarse-looking, irregularly rounded clusters of flowers. The lower branches of the flower head are longer and more branched than the ones near the top. Branches of the flower head are spreading at bloom, but close up around the stem during seed production.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Seeds are narrow, pointed and 1/3 inch long.

Biology:

Orchardgrass begins growth early in the spring. Flowering occurs in May and June, sometimes continuing into September. Clumps of orchardgrass can enlarge by tillering (producing new shoots from the base of existing stems).

Toxicity:

None known. Pollen is an important contributor to early season hay fever.

Facts and Folklore:

  • Orchardgrass is shade tolerant and is common in many shady areas such as orchards, hence its common name.

  • The alternate common name, 'cocksfoot', is in reference to the shape of the flower head, with its long lower flowering branches that stick out to the side during bloom

  • The species name, glomerata, means 'gathered in bunches', referring to the dense, irregularly rounded flower clusters.