Foxtail Tales

Foxtail spring 18

With the post-fire wildflower scene so spectacular this spring, I want to briefly mention another plant that seldom gets press but is ubiquitous following wildfires (and before wildfires, for that matter) – foxtails.  Those of us on the West coast are painfully aware of them and would prefer that they do their regenerative propagating somewhere far from us.

Yes, they are quite handsome in the early spring, with the sun shining through their graceful lime-green foxy-like stalks. Our regional park where I often take Oakley for walks is especially full of them this season.  Oakley loves nothing more than to go charging through the tall grass and splashing in the streams on these early morning spring walks when there are no park rangers around to enforce the leash laws.  When the grasses begin to dry out it is a different story.


Oakley, our Aussie,  cavorting through the grass at our regional park.

With the dry summer heat foxtails turn into rigid golden instruments of torture.   And then the real purpose of these bad guys becomes obvious. After all, a foxtail is ingeniously built like a fox tail so it can distribute its seeds by clinging to an animal’s fur (or a kid’s socks).


Unfortunately, most of the animals in our lives are not wild mammals such as antelope and bison which grazed on the native ranges of foxtail grasses of the great plains. Those animals ordinarily had fur short enough to eventually dislodge and disperse the foxtails.  Also, most of us are not dealing with livestock which have their own particular issues with foxtails, as reported in this fascinating Extension Service article from my alma mater.

For many of us pet owners, the dislodging of foxtails from paws, ears, and even eyes involves some very pricey veterinarian interventions.  Indeed, tales of foxtail extractions are common topics when socializing at dog parks.  For the uninitiated, dog park social scene is akin to cocktail parties, except that instead of chatting with a glass of wine in hand, we exchange our foxtail horror stories while holding our little doggie bags (and I am not referring to containers for leftover food from a restaurant).

Beware of Foxtails


I would love to explain all of this to Oakley who must wonder why she is not allowed to run off-leash on our walks during the summer.  Of course, there is always the option of providing her with some Pawz dog boots and an Outfox field guard, but I am afraid she should would die of embarrassment in front of the other dogs.  What to do!

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