Hordeum jubatum. Or “Foxtail Barley” as it’s commonly called.
I didn’t know its name until a few of months ago despite being able to recognize it instantly, like so many of our native plants. Its long tassels are easy to pick out of the scenery because they have an ability, like Muhlenbergia, to shimmer in the afternoon summer sun.
Foxtail barley is found mainly at low to mid elevations [4k–5k ft. above sea-level], but can sometimes grow up to the subalpine zone. It is native on saline and alkaline meadows. It is one of the few native grasses that can become weedy. Foxtail barley is most often found as a dense band of vegetation in disturbed areas where ephemeral water accumulates, such as near stock water or in reservoir drawdown areas. It also grows at the edges of trampled springs and seeps and in overgrazed pastures.
—USU Cooperative Extension, Range Plants of Utah
I hadn’t thought of using it in the garden until I saw some prescient neighbor had left it growing in her front border. Its fulgent seed heads were like sparklers, even amid petunias and snapdragons, catching my eye and fixing it even as I drove by at 30 miles an hour. I seriously considered collecting seed for my garden but, the idea of growing it didn’t really gain traction until I picked up a copy of The American Meadow Garden and saw it growing behind a stone bench in the garden of Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden. If you ever needed a mandate to grow this grass, the fact the Ogdens are experimenting with it should be enough. That Thompson & Morgan are offering seed for it this year in their catalog puts a nail in it. So, a couple of days ago, I went back to my neighbors and searched for its unmistakable towheaded tassels under the snow cover. The similarities with hair continued when I set it on the counter at home and watched the braided seed head react to the temperature change by expanding like I’d rubbed it against a balloon, bristling and arching to separate the seeds from each other.
While I can see the potential for it becoming weedy, especially in areas of the country that receive regular rain, I doubt I shall have such problems here. It’s time has come.