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Phleum rhaeticum

Alpine cat’s tail, cat tail grass

Phleum rhaeticum (Schröter, 1888)


Perennial, cespitous grass with long rhizomes and numerous young shoots breaking though the base of the leaf sheath and growing up intravaginally.

Culms are 5-50 cm high, slender, erect or geniculate, grooved or glabrous; two to four-noded, apical culm internode is approximately half the length of the entire culm. Nodes grooved and glabrous.

Leaf sheaths clustered on base of culms, disintegrating when ageing, grooved and glabrous, upper sheath at the culm clearly swollen.

Leaf blades 2-15 cm long, 2-8 mm wide, grooved and glabrous on both sides, margins scabrous.

Inflorescence a panicle, 1-5 cm long, 7-14 mm wide, globular, ovate or cylindrical, dense, not loose when bent, lateral branches totally connate with main axis. Rachis very short, glabrous. One-flowered spikelet, including awns 5.5-7.5 mm long.


Phleum rhaeticum is a central and south European plant. In the Alps it grows in the upper montane, subalpine and lower alpine zones. It thrives in meadows and in richly manured alpine pastures, mostly in dells with a high nutrient input.

Accordingly its habitat consists of moist, nutrient-rich, lime-deficient upper layers; in humus, brown soils, semipodsols and alpine pseudogleys with a pH of 4.2-6.2. In the central Alps it grows up to 2 500 m above sea level.

One of the most important species for restoration in the subalpine and lower alpine zones, where it grows well. Allpurpose grass, highly resistant, provides high-quality forage on alpine rich meadows and pastures.


Fruit of the husk 1.5-3 mm long, approximately 0.8 mm wide and thick, ovate, apically acuminate.

Lemma flimsy, membranous, acuminate. Palea small, flimsy; fruit tightly clasped by two glumes, 1.5-3 mm long, 0.6-1 mm wide and thick.

Glumes shaped like a lyre, running into two 2-mm long awns, strongly keeled, long, white hair along midvein up to tip of awn. Fruit greyish-brown, partly red translucent. Surface silvery-grey, white to brown, matt.

Thousand seed weight: 0.5-0.7 g.


(soil and climate)

For seed production of this species soil should not be arid or extremely light. The pH should be between 5.5 and 7.0. Regarding other parameters any soil is suitable.

Because of the plant’s slow juvenile development and low competition with weeds it requires soils with low weed infestation, especially regarding meadow grass, quack grass, loose silky bent and crab grass. Generally, it is important to choose areas with low weed infestation.


This species requires a thoroughly prepared seedbed.

Open sowing is possible until the end of June if irrigation is available.

Winter cereals as a cover crop are not suitable. Good results have been obtained with summer barley or linseed as a cover crop. A thin cover crop population is important.

Seeds of cat tail grass are usually covered by glumes and seed flow is therefore bad. A possibility is to rub the seeds gently out of the glumes. In so doing, however, there may be losses through seeds breaking as well as a decreased germinative capacity.

Seed rate: 8-12 kg/ha for seeding with glumes, depending on the quality of the seeds. When using seeds without glumes the seed rate can be reduced to 7-8 kg/ha.

Row spacing: 20-25 cm. Broadcast seeding has also proved successful in practice.


This species is quite demanding. For the satisfactory development of seeds a high nutrient supply is needed.

Phosphorus and potassium: on soils with an intermediate supply of phosphorus and potassium, fertilization with manure (15-25 tonnes/ha) is sufficient. For mineral fertilization, amounts should be 50-70 kg/ha P2O5 and 80-120 kg/ha K2O.

Nitrogen: sufficient nitrogen in autumn guarantees satisfactory tillering. However, a surplus of nitrogen in late spring may lead to a decreased development of spermatophores. The amount of nitrogen necessary for seed development is 70-100 kg/ha N-total. This should be split and applied in autumn and early spring. However, possible existing guidelines for appropriate fertilization have to be respected.


Cat tail grass is generally tolerant of herbicides. For application of hormonetype and broad-spectrum herbicides, see Table 3. Herbicides should be used even for low weed infestation. Early application is important because high weed competition has a disproportionately high impact on the crop yield.

A specific problem is weed infestation by Poa annua (annual meadow grass), which may lead to severe contamination of seeds and result in seed quality not being up to standard. Selective weed control (Ethofumesate) is possible when weed infestation is low. However, it is not possible to give general instructions. An expert survey is necessary in order to recommend a specific composition.

Rust diseases: can be problematic beginning in summer. Frequent inspection and the timely application of fungicides are vital. Insufficient control can lead to breakdown of the populations on wide areas.

Severe infestation of rust may occur especially in summer and autumn before the second harvest. Here too, the application of customary broad-spectrum fungicides for cereal cultivation is necessary to avoid substantial decreases in crop yields the following year. Cutting in late summer is helpful but should not substitute the application of fungicides because this could lead to high weed infestation.

Cutting is indicated in the autumn of the first growing year. The use of biomass as forage is not economical.


Resistance to lodging: high.

Shattering tendency: intermediate to high.

Ripeness: ripeness begins when the seeds at the top of the the greyish-brown spindles start to drop off. If the remaining seeds can be easily pulled off, the seeds are ripe (see figure below).

Ripening period: end of June to middle of July.

Harvesting techniques: in experiments with swath threshing, high losses have been observed from full ripeness onwards. Therefore, this technique is only recommended if ripeness is not at all compact. Direct threshing is usually unproblematic; the fan should be set very low in order to minimize losses. However, the seeds have a bad seed flow that may cause jams.

Crop yields: crop yields are highly dependent on experience. At the moment yields are between 100 and 300 kg/ha. With optimal maintenance, three harvest years are possible.

Fourth panicle from the left shows optimal ripeness for harvesting

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