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Summer Annual Grass Identification (Jul. 14, 2010)

Two closely related but different species of several summer annual grasses are common in the low deserts. In general, these are all easy to distinguish from each other in the field and they respond similarly to herbicides. Some of these and their distinguishing characteristics are:

  • Watergrass (Echinochloa colonum) and Barnyardgrass (Echinochloa crusgalli)

These are very similar but watergrass has purple bands or chevrons on the leaves and barnyardgrass often has awns or bristles at the end of the spikelets. Both respond the same to herbicides.

  • Red Sprangletop (Leptochloa filiformis) and Mexican Sprangletop (Leptochloa uninervia)

Red sprangletop is, in general, a lighter green color and has a finer seed head than does Mexican sprangletop which is darker green or gray and has a visibly coarser seedhead. Both form clumps or crowns that often survive through the winter months. Both are fairly tolerant to Poast (sethoxydim) and Fusilade (fluaziflop) but are controlled with high rates of Select (clethodim).

  • Field Sandbur (Cenchrus pauciflorus) and Southern Sandbur (Cenchrus echinatus)

Both of these equally miserable weeds are only found in sandy soils and fairly easy to distinguish. Field sandbur has thinner, gray colored leaves and yellowish burs that are longer than broad. Southern sandbur has darker and broader leaves and fatter red colored burs. Southern sandbur has a more compact seed head with distinctly more burs than does southern sandbur. Both of these are fairly tolerant to Poast (sethoxydim), Select (clethodim) and Fusilade (fluaziflop).

  • Southwestern Cupgrass (Eriochloa gracilis) and Prairie Cupgrass (Eriochloa contracta)

These similar grasses are fairly easy to distinguish in the field. Southwestern Cupgrass is one of the wider leafed grasses in the deserts. Prairie Cupgrass leaves are not as wide and are hairy. Southwestern is more branched than prairie and the ligule is shorter and less prominent. The branches are longer and fewer on prairie than on southwestern Cupgrass. Both respond the same to most herbicides.

  • Green Foxtail (Setaria viridis) and Yellow Foxtail (Setaria glauca)

Both green and yellow foxtail typically form clumps, produce lots of seed and stand more upright than many other summer annual grasses. They are not difficult to distinguish in the field. Green has a darker greenish or brown seedhead compared to the yellow. The leaves of yellow are generally longer and have more bristles (5-20) per spikelet than green, which typically has 3 or less darker colored bristles. Both respond the same to most herbicides.

This link will connect you with a powerpoint presentation that will help in the identification of summer annual grasses in the deserts.

To contact Barry Tickes go to:



For questions or comments on any of the topics please contact Marco Pena at the Yuma Agricultural Center.
College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.

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