Crow's Foot Grass

Dactyloctenium aegyptium

Crow's foot grass

Crow's foot grass, photographed at Military Trail Natural Area, Deerfield Beach, Broward County, in August 2013.

Crow's foot grass, Dactyloctenium aegyptium, is pretty well behaved for a foreign invader. It's found throughout most of Florida, in fact, it's found in most warmer places around the globe and a few colder ones, too. And while it can be a bit of agricultural pest, nowhere is it considered a serious threat to crops, or the environment, for that matter.

First of all, it is a true grass, a member of Poaceae, one of the largest families of grasses on the planet. It is a native of Australia. The first part of its scientific name, Dactyloctenium, is a combination of Greek words for finger and little comb. Other common names include crowfoot grass, durban grass and Egyptian grass.

In Australia, it's considered a valuable pasture plant. Crow's foot grass also is planted along the coast to stabilize sand dunes. In Perth, it's used as a lawn grass.

Somehow — and for the most part, no one's exactly sure how — crow's foot grass has made its way literally around the globe. It's found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. In North America, it's found as far north as Maine, makes its way down the Atlantic Coast, along the Gulf and the southern border to California. The biggest concentration, however, is in the Southeast and near the coast.The only place where it's known for sure how crow's foot grass got there is Morocco, where it came via a contaminated crop seed shipment in 1980. By 1996, it was widespread in Morocco. Every now and then, Canadian inspectors will find seed in shipments to that country.

It can be erect, or prostrate. It puts out roots from nodes along the stem, enabling the plant to creep and form mats.

The plant itself can be 14 to 18 inches long, with leaves that are sheath-like. It sends out four to eight flower spikes arrayed at the end of a stem like a bird's foot, hence the name. It puts out large numbers of seeds, and often is a "pioneer" species, quickly establishing itself in a newly open spaces. It can be weedy and it can occupy habitat that native species would take up, limiting biodiversity, but again, not to the point where it is seen as a serious threat to either agriculture or the environment.

Crow's foot grass does have some utilitarian value in some of the lands where it has taken up residence. In India and Africa, the seeds are eaten during famine. It's also used to make a fish poison. In Bangladesh, the grain is given to mothers after childbirth to relieve stomach pains. They're used to make a remedy for kidney problems — even though they contain oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones. In India, a juice from the plant is used to treat fevers and small pox.

Military Trail Natural Area

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.