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Timothy grass.jpg
Habitus, ssp. pratense
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Phleum
Species: P. pratense
Binomial name
Phleum pratense

Timothy-grass[1] (Phleum pratense) is an abundant perennial grass native to most of Europe except for the Mediterranean region. It is also known simply as timothy, meadow cat's-tail or common cat's tail.[2] It is one of the Phleum genus, consisting of about 15 species of annual and perennial grasses.

It is probably named after Timothy Hanson, an American farmer and agriculturalist said to have introduced it from New England to the southern states in the early 18th century.[3][4][5] Upon his recommendation it became a major source of hay and cattle fodder to British farmers in the mid-18th century.[6]

Timothy-grass can be confused with meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) and purple-stem cat's-tail (Phleum phleoides).


Close-up of flower head showing purple stamen (3 per floret) and feathery stigma (2 per floret)
The ligule is short and blunt

It grows to 19–59 inches tall, with leaves up to 17 inches long and 12 inch broad. The leaves are hairless, rolled rather than folded, and the lower sheaths turn dark brown.

It has no stolons or rhizomes, and no auricles.

The flowerhead is 2 34–6 inches long and 1412 inches broad, with densely packed spikelets. It flowers from June until September. The stamen are pink.

The ligule is short and blunt.

It grows well in heavy soil, and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought, and thus ability to grow in dry upland or poor sandy soils. In pasture it tends to be overwhelmed by more competitive grasses. After cutting it grows slowly.

Showing bulbous base and brown leaf sheaths


There are two subspecies:

  • Phleum pratense subsp. pratense. Larger, to 59 inches tall. Widespread.
  • Phleum pratense subsp. bertolonii. Smaller, to 27 12 inches tall. Calcareous grassland.

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Timothy-grass was unintentionally introduced to North America by early settlers, and was first described in 1711 by John Hurd from plants growing in New Hampshire. Hurd named the grass "hurd grass" but a farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay about 1720, and the grass has been known by its present name since then. Timothy has now become naturalized throughout most of the US and Canada.

It is commonly grown for cattle feed and, in particular, as hay for horses. It is relatively high in fibre, especially when cut late. It is considered a harsh, coarse grass little relished by livestock if cut earlier. It is considered part of the standard mix for grass hay and provides quality nutrition for horses. Timothy hay is a staple food for domestic pet rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and degus, often making up the bulk of their diet. Timothy hay is rich in long fibre and its abrasive texture helps to grind down the teeth, keeping both the teeth and jaw in good order.

The caterpillars of some Lepidoptera use it as a food plant, e.g. the Essex skipper (Thymelicus lineola) and the marbled white (Melanargia galathea). It also grows in roadsides and abandoned fields but generally requires nutrient-rich soils.

Its pollen is a common allergen; it has recently been used in small amounts as part of a new hay fever vaccine Grazax, which is designed to recondition the body's immune system so it no longer responds to pollen.

Plants persist through the winter. Dead, straw-colored flowering stems may persist, but only for a short time, and are recognized by the distinctive spike-like inflorescence.

Confusion with other species[edit]

Close-up of flower head showing hornlike spikelets

It is often confused with meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis). Timothy flowers later, from June until August, whereas meadow foxtail flowers from April until June. The spikelets of timothy are twin hornlike projections arranged in cylindrical panicles, whereas foxtail has a soft, single awn.[7]

Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) spikelet

Purple-stem cat's-tail (Phleum phleoides) prefers lighter soils and grows on chalk downland.

Mountain timothy (Phleum alpinum) grows above 6,000 feet.[8] A "wild Timothy" was found to grow in Yosemite at the time of its discovery but may have been a foxtail.[9][10]

Timothy canary grass (Phalaris angusta), another species with a similar cylindrical panicle, is toxic to livestock.



  1. ^ Clause BS 7370-5
  2. ^ The Observer's book of grasses, sedge and rushes by Francis Rose, page 112, 1976, ISBN 0 7232 1533 2, published by Frederick Warne and Co Ltd
  3. ^ "Timothy Grass". The Louisville Daily Courier. July 9, 1859. p. 4. Retrieved September 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., p. 1310.
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. timothy grass.
  6. ^ Readers Digest Nature Lover's Library Wild Flowers of Britain, page 430, published 1988
  7. ^ bsbi.org.uk; description, retrieved 2010-12-1.
  8. ^ Jepson Manual - Phleum alpinum
  9. ^ Bunnell, Lafayette Houghton (1880). Discovery of Yosemite. p. 245.  External link in |title= (help)
  10. ^ Scribner, F Lampson, Grasses of Mountain Meadows and Deer Parks in Lazenby, William R. (1889). Proceedings of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science. pp. 68–9.  External link in |title= (help)

External links[edit]