An annual, reproducing by seed, the stem is erect, branching at the base, and 20-60 cm (8-24 in.) tall. The leaves are flat, without hairs, rough, and have a pointed blade, 5-25 cm (2-10 in.) long. The green heads are cylindrical, tapering toward the summit, 2.5-10 cm (1-4 in.) long, soft, and bristly.
Green foxtail is a heavy seed producer. It produces about 34,000 seeds per plant. However, it is a poor competitor, unless it grows in dense stands. Seeds remain viable in soil for about 3 years. Seeds buried deeper than about 7.5 cm (3 in.) do not germinate.
Take a minimum of 20 weed counts across the field. Scout frequently because under hot conditions, green foxtail can advance through it’s growth stages quickly, potentially escaping the window for herbicide application.
Green foxtail does not thrive in the cool, loose soil that is often found between the crop rows of reduced tillage or zero tillage fields. Green foxtail populations generally decline under reduced or zero till crop production.
Green foxtail has little effect on canola yields. Densities as high as 100 plants per square metre (sq. yd.) reduce canola yields by less than 5%.
In fact, no plant material was found to confirm XL’s condition. But Lewis has had several other dogs with grass awn infections and recognized the signs, however vague. Today XL is “doing fine,” Lewis says. “He’s back to running field trials, and placing.” That may be due to how quickly she acted on his symptoms: labored breathing, high temperature and lethargy.
Lauenroth found that plenty of Canada wild rye has been planted in the Midwest, and its sharp awn makes it dangerous for dogs. Canada wild rye is also common along the east coast, he says. But the study dried up due to a dearth of definitive diagnoses to draw on. For vets, finding a foxtail seed in a dog is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Lauenroth says he was unable to extract numbers of cases over the past 20 years from the records of veterinary hospitals.
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Many infections show up as an acute illness, according to the findings of Wisconsin resident Cathy Lewis, whose website meanseeds.com provides case histories and information about foxtails and grass awn disease. In 2013, her Springer Spaniel “XL” developed a mysterious respiratory ailment that required draining fluid from his lungs. It began during an outing in January; not the time of year when foxtails come to mind. But the website of Atascadero Pet Hospital in California says they’ve seen pets with “a recurrent abscess that is ongoing for 2 years and once the foxtail is removed the abscess goes away.”
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To make foxtails more visible, vets often suggest giving dogs a close shave called a foxtail haircut. Others swear by headgear that is truly a pup tent: foxtail hoodies, designed to keep mean seeds out of eyes, ears and mouths.