Lots of us call them foxtails, or cheatgrass. It’s also known as Downy brome and timothy. We take the little spears out of our socks. They snag our cats and dogs with their slender spear-like tips. If not removed, they can cause pain, and possibly an abscess that could become infected. Dogs’ ears are particularly vulnerable. It’s good spring forage for cattle and sheep. By summer it’s in its pernicious spear mode.
Downy brome grows all over Effieland, my cat Effie’s large enclosed garden area, safe from predators and raptors, with overhead wire fencing. I spend at least ten minutes combing the horrid little spears out of Effie’s fur, every time I bring her back in the house, usually at least six times in a day.
The weed is prolific and uncontrollable. Anything that kills it would kill everything in the garden. Weeds are well adapted. They grow among plants we don’t wish to kill.
I once accepted a dog from a fellow university student who was returning home to New York and was unable to bring the wonder dog who had followed her home that summer in California. She showed me the abscess in the dog’s shoulder and gave me money to cover the vet bill. I brought Jenny the dog to a vet who surgically removed every fragment of the foxtail that had lodged in Jenny’s shoulder. The vet urged caution, because the abscess could have festered and become chronically miserable, and foxtails grew everywhere in Santa Barbara. They’re also prolific where we now live, in the Eastern Washington prairie.
A spear of Downy brome
My beautiful Effie, groomed and spear-free after coming in from Effieland, where we grow five varieties of grapes, as well as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries; we also grow sunflowers, lupines, flax, and poppies. And we are besieged with marauding Downy brome.