Dactylis glomerata

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Dactylis glomerata
Habit with numerous, tall flowering culms emerging from a small tussock of long, narrow green leaves.
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Pooideae
Genus: Dactylis
D. glomerata
Binomial name
Dactylis glomerata

Dactylis glomerata is a species of flowering plant in the grass family Poaceae, commonly known as cock's-foot, orchard grass, or cat grass (due to its popularity for use with domestic cats). It is a cool-season perennial C3 bunchgrass native throughout most of Europe, temperate Asia, and northern Africa.[1][2][3][4][5]


Dactylis glomerata occurs from sea level in the north of its range, to as high as 4,000 meters in altitude in the south of its range in Pakistan.[6] It is widely used for hay and forage.[5]

It is a principal species in the widespread National Vegetation Classification habitat community MG1 (Arrhenatherum elatius grassland) in the United Kingdom, and so can be found with Arrhenatherum elatius (false oat grass).[7]

Dactylis glomerata in Swakane Canyon, Chelan County Washington

It can be found in meadows, pasture, roadsides, and rough grassland.

It has been introduced into North America, New Zealand and Australia, and is now widely naturalised.[8] In some areas, it has become an invasive species.

One of the keys to distinguishing this species from other grasses are its flat stems


Cock's-foot grows in dense perennial tussocks to 20–140 centimetres (7.9–55.1 in; 0.66–4.59 ft) tall, with grey-green leaves 20–50 centimetres (7.9–19.7 in; 0.66–1.64 ft) long and up to 1.5 centimetres (0.59 in) broad, and a distinctive tufted triangular flowerhead 10–50 centimetres (3.9–19.7 in; 0.33–1.64 ft) long, which may be either green or red- to purple-tinged (usually green in shade, redder in full sun), turning pale grey-brown at seed maturity. The spikelets are 5–9 millimetres (0.20–0.35 in) long, typically containing two to five flowers. It has a characteristic flattened stem base which distinguishes it from many other grasses.[2][5]

It flowers from June to September.[9]

Flower head


Dactylis glomerata is treated as the sole species in the genus Dactylis by some authors,[1][3] while others include one to four other species.[10] It is commonly divided into several regional subspecies, particularly by those authors accepting only the single species:[1][6][10]

  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. glomerata. Widespread; described from Europe.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. altaica. Central Asia.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. himalayensis. (syn. D. himalayensis). Western Himalaya.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. hispanica (syn. D. hispanica). Mediterranean, SW Asia.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. ibizensis. Balearic Islands.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. judaica
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. juncinella. Spain.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. lobata (syn. D. glomerata subsp. aschersoniana, D. aschersoniana, D. polygama). Central Europe.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. lusitanica. Portugal.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. marina (syn. D. marina). Western Mediterranean region, Iberia, Canary Islands.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. reichenbachii. Italy.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. santai
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. slovenica. Central Europe.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. smithii (syn. D. smithii). Macaronesia.
  • Dactylis glomerata subsp. woronowii (syn. D. woronowii). Russia.

Dactylis glomerata subsp. glomerata and subsp. hispanica are tetraploid forms with 28 chromosomes; some of the other subspecies, including subsp. himalayensis and subsp. lobata are diploid, with 2n = 14. Hexaploid forms with 42 chromosomes are also known, but rare.[3][11] Tetraploid forms are larger and coarser than diploid forms.[11]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Cock's-foot is widely used as a hay grass and for pastures because of its high yields and sugar content, which makes it sweeter than most other temperate grasses. In dry areas as in much of Australia, Mediterranean subspecies such as subsp. hispanica are preferred for their greater drought tolerance.[12] It requires careful grazing management; if it is undergrazed it becomes coarse and unpalatable.

In some areas to which it has been introduced, cock's-foot has become an invasive weed, notably some areas of the eastern United States.[10]

As with other grasses, the pollen can cause allergic rhinitis (hay fever) in some people.

The grass is popularly grown to satisfy the craving of domestic cats to chew grass, hence its colloquial name cat grass.[13]

The seeds were first collected by Rogers Parker in Hertfordshire; this was then developed by the agricultural reformer Coke of Norfolk.[14] Parker's estate, Munden, near Bricket Wood, was inherited by the botanist George Hibbert.[15]

Butterfly foodplant[edit]

The caterpillars of many butterfly species feed on cock's foot, including:[16]


  1. ^ a b c Flora Europaea: Dactylis glomerata Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Interactive Flora of NW Europe Dactylis glomerata (Cock's-foot)[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c Lu, Sheng-lian; Phillips, Sylvia M. "Dactylis". Flora of China. Vol. 22 – via eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  4. ^ USDA Plant Fact Sheet: ORCHARDGRASS
  5. ^ a b c "FAO factsheet: Dactylis glomerata". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
  6. ^ a b "Dactylis glomerata L.". Flora of Pakistan. Missouri Botanical Garden – via Tropicos.org.
  7. ^ "False Oat Grass Description". Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI). Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  8. ^ "Dactylis glomerata (cocksfoot)". Plants of Hawaii. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
  9. ^ Hubbard, C. E. Grasses. Penguin. 1978.
  10. ^ a b c Species Records of Dactylis, Dactylis glomerata. Germplasm Resources Information Network.
  11. ^ a b Míka, V., Kohoutek, A., & Odstrèilová, V. (2002). Characteristics of important diploid and tetraploid subspecies of Dactylis from point of view of the forage crop production. Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine Rostlinná Výroba 48 (6): 243–248.
  12. ^ NSW Department of Primary Industries PrimeFacts: Cocksfoot
  13. ^ Victoria Nursery: Catgrass plant
  14. ^ Baxter (1830). The Library of Agricultural and Horticultural Knowledge: With an Appendix on Suspended Animation, Poisons, and the Principal Laws Relating to Farming and Rural Affairs. pp. 228–229, 523.
  15. ^ Hall; et al. Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain. Cambridge University Press. p. 221.
  16. ^ Natural England: Cocksfoot - Dactylis glomerata Archived 2010-02-17 at the Wayback Machine