Plant Guide > Grasses > Couch Grass

Couch Grass


Agropyron repens (L.) Beauv.

In June the Couch-grass suddenly appears by the waysides and as the worst of weeds in cultivated lands; the stout leafy stems and flattened two-sided spikes apparently having sprung up in a night.

This species varies greatly in appearance, especially near the seacoast, but it is always unlike other grasses, with the possible exception of Ray-grass from which it is distinguished by the position of the spikelets, those of Ray-grass being placed edgewise, or with their backs to the stem, while in Couch-grass the spikelets are closely placed with their sides against the axis of the spike.

Couch-grass grows with the energy of the fabled hydra, and where one
of the dark green stems is cut, half a dozen rise to take its place.

This grass and the Johnson Grass of the South have the most extensive system of creeping or, more expressively, running rootstocks of any of the inland grasses.

The strong, white subterranean stems of Couch-grass form a network and send off innumerable sharp-pointed shoots, which in the garden often pierce roots and tubers and seem to prefer to grow through any permeable object rather than to turn aside.

This grass is the worst enemy of the farmer among his cultivated acres, as each breaking of the ground's surface by sharp-edged tools serves only to cut and scatter the roots, each fragment of which, seemingly, "hath in it a Propertie and Spirit, hastily to get up and spread."

This quality of the plant suggested to Charles Dudley Warner while spending his "Summer in a Garden" the idea of offering Couch-grass to the clergy as an example of total depravity, vet insatiable ambition seems the chief characteristic of this plant, whose merits are recognized in its tenacity of life through drouth and on sandy soils, as well as in the nutritious hay yielded, while the long rootstocks are valuable in binding the loose soil of railway embankments.

On pasture lands of the North-western States other species of the genus furnish an important part of the native grasses.

Couch-grass. Quick-grass. Quitch-grass. Devil-grass. Witch-grass. Agropyron repens (L.) Beauv.

Perennial, with running rootstocks. Naturalized from Europe.

Stern 1-4 ft. tall, erect. Ligule very short. Leaves 4'-12' long, 2"-5" wide, flat, smooth on lower surface, rough above.

Spike 2'-8' long, narrow. Spikelets 3-6-flowered, 4"-10" long, green, solitary, sessile on alternate notches of the rachis, side of each spikelet placed against the rachis. Outer scales acute, or awn-pointed, sometimes obtuse or notched, strongly nerved, about equal; flowering scales acute or short-awned; palets slightly shorter than flowering scales. Stamens 3, anthers large, yellow. A very variable species.

Fields, cultivated ground, and waste places. June to September.

Newfoundland to the Northwest Territory, south to Virginia, Ohio, and Iowa.