The Critters

For Nice Critters

The Foxtail Or Wild Barley – Nature’s Most Expensive Weed

The Foxtail Or Wild Barley – Nature’s Most Expensive Weed

Living in the country has its good points and bad points, its ups and downs, its recreation and chores. Quiet, peaceful days are only punctuated by the chirps and songs of birds; nights are silent save for the occasional horse sneeze. The country is beautiful, the views breathtaking to see – but the upkeep of country property can be a challenge.

The biggest challenge (and I dare anyone to find a bigger one) is springtime weeds. Not those odd offenders who sprout up amidst a well-kept lawn (we don’t have a lawn); real weeds. The obstinate, aggressive, vengeful type. The kingpin of weeds is wild barley, or foxtail, where we live. You poison it, it grows back. You cut it down, three grow back in its place. You hit it with a weed trimmer – it takes revenge.

The foxtail’s primary weapon is its seed heads or awns. They transport the seed into fur, wool, socks, hair, tires, noses, toes, or any other vehicle the foxtail chooses. The barbed fibers in the seed head act like tiny fish hooks, driving the seed head further into the soil, skin, or hair. It is quite common for veterinarians to remove foxtails from the ears, noses, toes, and body tissues of animals (mostly dogs and cats). It can be an expensive procedure – and is almost always very unpleasant for the animal involved.

The best defense against this weedy menace is prevention. Cut or mow the weeds (or hire goats … we’re not kidding). Early in the spring, when the wild barley appears as innocent and tasty grass for horses and goats, the plant is harmless. Allowed to progress to seed stage, it will sprout green awns that are still rather harmless. However, if the weed is allowed to dry out to its dreaded golden state, the awn becomes a tiny missile launcher; brush by it with new socks on, and you’ll have foxtails in the terry cloth until the socks are worn and done. The firing action is what also lobs the seed heads into the ears of dogs and cats – to nestle there against an eardrum until the veterinarian’s probe and forceps remove it.

Mind you, the offensive arsenal of weed poison (not popular if one has animals in residence) and weed trimmers is only partially effective. Cut the plants down, more grow in their place, with more awns than before. Sometimes the foxtails will fly up into the trimmer operator’s ears and nose. It goes without saying that sturdy pants and smooth boots are mandatory. Those seeds fly off of a trimmer’s head and stick to anything in firing range.

The coup de gras for high expense regarding this nasty weed is its final vengeance: weed trimmers tend to hit and launch rocks. A broken window here and there in the house seems to have the foxtails laughing. In one reported household, foxtails have run up a $1,000.00 bill due to vet bills for foxtails in dogs’ ears, and (so far – spring isn’t over yet) one broken window. Yes, indeed. The foxtails are laughing.