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Meadowmat wildflower species: Crested dogstail

Crested dog's tail

Crested dog's tail (also known by its Latin name, cynosurus cristatus), is a very familiar native species of widespread perennial grass. This variety of grass, often found in meadows, is a great source of food for many species of butterfly.

Where to find crested dog's tail

This variety of lowland grass enjoys almost any type of soil but prefers well drained species-rich varieties that don't reach acid and calcareous PH extremes. It can be spotted on farmland, grasslands, sheep pastures, towns and gardens throughout the British Isles, and is especially prevalent around Rutland in Leicestershire. Like most native species of grass, it has been noted to be receding and has but one other rarely spotted member in its small family, known as rough dog's tail (Cynosurus echinatus).

crested dogstail grass with wildflowers and spaniels

These two spaniels are playing in a field of mainly crested dogstail grass with some oxeye daisies and common sorrel

What it looks like

Crested dog's tail tends to grow in densely populated tufts and is a short, rigid and wiry grass with narrow green leaves. It normally grows to heights of around 70cm (including seed head which is flat on one of the sides).

Looking a bit like a baby-bottle cleaning brush, the upright flower spikes are a giveaway when it comes to this species and the compact busy grouping of small spikes containing the flowers grow in a long, rectangular pattern. The flowers bloom outwards in purple anthers sprinkled with tiny protruding particles that have a hair-like appearance. The flowers pop out from tiny white filaments which are held by little green cups and wilt to a brownish colour once they have passed bloom.

During winter, however, it maintains its greenness but can often become a little wiry with the absence of mowing or grazing.

 

Traditional uses

Crested dog's tail works beautifully as part of any Meadowmat meadow mix and has delicate violet flowers which flower during the summer. It's a particular favourite as it attracts butterflies, acting as a good source of food for many species of Lepidoptera. It will also give a good green coverage throughout the winter, withstanding cold temperatures and winds.

It used to be a favourite with farmers for sheep and cattle grazing, as the younger leaves would be quickly and happily eaten, leaving the tall stick-like stem behind. Throughout history it's been used for a variety of other things, varying from rat-poison to woven hats. Owing to its pliable and robust nature, it made a great material for braided bonnets.

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