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Phleum pratense L.

Syn.: Phleum nodosum L.
Timothy, Herdgrass

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Toxicity
  5. Description
  6. Germplasm
  7. Distribution
  8. Ecology
  9. Cultivation
  10. Harvesting
  11. Yields and Economics
  12. Energy
  13. Biotic Factors
  14. References


Major cool-season, short-lived perennial bunchgrass, valuable in cool humid regions for pasture, but most important for hay. Palatable and nutritious, probably the most important hay species in the United States, being more nutritious when cut in early bloom stage (Reed, 1976). The stem inhibits the growth of Sphacelia segetum (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). Has been grown for the extraction of chlorophyll.

Folk Medicine

Stored sterile timothy extracts arrested the growth of Sarcoma 45 and other tumor types.


Per 100 g, the young green forage is reported to contain 76.1 g H2O, 4.7 g protein, 0.9 g fat, 11.1 g carbohydrate, 4.6 g fiber, 2.6 g ash, 140 mg Ca, 90 mg P, and 56 mg K. Timothy proteins are rich in tryptophane, lysine, and valine. The herb contains phlein, and several organic acids, oxalic, acetic, cactic, succinicic, malic, cumaric, and probably chelidonic. Roots and stembases contain monosaccharides, saccharose, fructose, and starch (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


Two allergins producing strong skin reactions and a hemaglutinating action have been isolated from timothy pollen. The pollen contains several flavonol-glycosides, among them dactylin (isorhamnetin-31,4-diglucoside).


Loose to densely tufted, rather short-lived perennial; culms smooth, 40–150 cm tall, stiffly erect or ascending, bent from a bulbous base to form large clumps; basal nodes generally very short, swollen or bulbous; leaf-blades elongate, flat, 10–30 cm long, 5–8 mm broad, saber-shaped, tapering to a very thin point; top leaf-blade shorter than the other leaves and extending sharply upward, with a longer clinging leaf-sheath; seed-heads bristly, cylindrical, very dense, large, 4–12.5 cm long, 0.6 cm in diameter; spikelets crowded, flattened, covered with stiff hairs; glumes about 3.5 mm long, truncate with a short awn 1 mm long, pectinate-ciliate on the keel; 1 or 2 lower internodes becoming swollen into 'bulbs' or 'corms' which store some carbohydrates until plant blooms; root system fibrous and rather shallow, not spreading laterally. Fl. summer and fall. Seeds 2,000,000 to 2,712,150/kg (Reed, 1976).


Reported from the Eurosiberian Center of Diversity, timothy, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate disease, frost, low pH, mine, mycobacteria, rust, virus, weeds, and waterlog (Duke, 1978). It cannot tolerate drought. Timothy has many variations based on growth habit, leaf and stem characters, head type, earliness, longevity, winter-hardiness, glume size, and pollen fertility. 'Astra', developed in Sweden, similar to 'Climax', (in Ontario, average yields are slightly below those of 'Climax') good resistance to disease and winterkilling; 'Climax', developed in Ontario, tall, fine-stemmed, leafy, aftergrowth excellent in good fertility conditions, highly resistant to rust; 'Welch', a pasture strain imported in United States from Great Britain; 'Bounty', developed in Ontario, tall, maturing 7–10 days later than 'Climax', stems larger and leaves broader; 'Huron', developed in Ohio, 6 days later in blooming and maturing seed than common; 'Itasca', developed in Minnesota, rank growing, well-adapted to Minnesota conditions, superior in growth habit and characteristics to common; 'Lorain', developed in Ohio, 10–12 days later than common, adapted for hay production in northern Ohio; 'Medon', developed in Ontario, leafy, winter-hardy, well-adapted in Ontario; 'Marietta', developed in Ohio, blooms and matures about 5 days before common, well-adapted to southern Ohio; 'Milton', developed in Quebec, fairly rust resistant, winter-hardy, early maturing, vigorous; 'Swallow', developed in Alberta, hay type, good rust resistance and winter hardiness; 'Verdant' (Reg. No. 4) developed in Wisconsin, late-maturing, hay type, moderately coarse, good tolerance to stem rust and leaf streak, vigorous, stiff strawed. Many other cvs developed in various countries for specific ecological conditions. Cultivars cannot be grown too far from areas of adaptation (Reed, 1976). (2n = 42.)


A native Eurasian plant, but now widely distributed throughout the temperate regions of the world; cultivated as far north as the Arctic Circle (Reed, 1976).


Ranging from Boreal Moist to Rain throught Subtropical Dry Forest Life Zones, timothy is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3.5 to 17.6 dm (mean of 64 cases = 8.3), annual temperature of 4.4 to 18.6°C (mean of 64 cases = 8.7), and pH of 4.5 to 7.8 (mean of 59 cases = 6.2) (Duke, 1978, 1979). Adapted to cool, humid, temperate climate, growing best on rather heavy, deep and moist or even wet soils. Yields lower on light dry soils and sands. Optimum temperature for growing 18.3°–21.6°C varying with day/night temperatures of 15°/10°C and 21°/15°C (Reed, 1976).


Reproduces by seeds and plants do not spread vegetatively or from a sod. Seed yields are large and establishment is rapid and easy. Average seeding rate 7–13 kg/ha; when planted with clovers, 6–14 kg/ha. In New Zealand, seed rate 3–5 kg/ha drilled, and in Switzerland, 20 kg/ha broadcast or 8–10 kg/ha drilled. Row spacing 30–40 cm. For hay it should be sown with red clover, alsike clover, or with alfalfa in 3–4-year leys. Combines well with Dactylis glomerata on drier soils and with Festuca pratensis on more moist soils. New shoots develop from buds at base of culms below the haplocorm and from these shoots new culms arise and develop new haplocorms as the old ones die. Timothy gives excellent response to nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers; 30–60 kg/ha in Germany; 100–200 kg/ha elsewhere; lime and P2O5 applied in New Zealand. In United States and Canada, grass/clover mixture normally sown under spring-sown cereal (barley), gives some autumn grazing; then it is cut annually for hay, although the aftermath (mainly clover) may be grazed also. In United States, winter cereal is sown to timothy in autumn; clovers are then broadcast into the stand in early spring (Reed, 1976).


Timothy is cut for hay in early flower stage (or before flowering [C.S.I.R., 1948–1976]), after which the quality decreases rapidly without much increase in yield. Early cutting increases yield of aftermath and stimulates increase in yield. Hay meadows require heavy fertilizer dressings for maximum production. Phosphate and potash stimulates clovers; where clovers are few, nitrogen gives large increases in yields. First growth is frequently harvested for hay or silage and the aftermath pastured. Growth begins early in spring and continues throughout summer, if soil moisture is adequate. Winter-hardy, but not under close, continuous grazing. Seeds ripe when tops of inflorescences shatter, usually cut with binder and stacked (Reed, 1976).

Yields and Economics

Seed yields of 600 kg/ha are reported (Duke, 1978). Seed yields in New Zealand about 250 kg/ha; in Europe, 300–600 kg/ha; in Portugal, 120–180 kg/ha (Reed 1976). "It gives a large yield of about 980 kg/ha WM." (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). Not very large. With 60 kg N/ha, timothy and clover mixturers have yielded 9.4 MT DM/ha in Russia (Kadziulis, 1974). Sown alone, it yielded 4.9 MT/DM/ha in Italy (Cenci and Pagiotti, 1979). Through-out the area of its adaptation, grown exclusively either alone or in mixtures with alfalfa and clovers. An important crop in Scandinavia, Canada, northeastern United States, and the Pacific Coast United States. A common constituent of pastures on moist heavy soils (Reed, 1976).


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 2 to 15 MT/ha, with 10–15 MT/ha resorted in Belgium, 2 in Bulgaria, 6–11 in Czechoslovakia, 13 in France, 14 in Germany, 11 in Jamaica, 11 in Poland, 5 in US, and 2 in USSR (Duke, 1981b).

Biotic Factors

Timothy is attacked by many fungi, including the following: Ascochyta phleina, Balansia strangulans, Cercospora, graminicola, Chaetomium globosum, Cladochytrium gerhardti, Cladosporium graminum, C. herbarum, C. phlei-pratense, Claviceps microcephala, C. purpurea, Colletotrichum graminicola, Dematium hispidulum, Diaporthe radicina (D. arctii), Dilophospora alopecuri, Entyloma crastophilum, E. dactylidis, Epichloe typhina, Erysiphe graminis f. phlei, Fusarium acuminatum, F. avenaceum, F. equiseti, F. heterosporum, F. poae, F. solani, F. scirpi var. acuminatum, Gibberella saubinetii, Helminthosproium dictyoides and var. phlei, H. giganteum, H. sativum, Hendersonia crastophila, Heterosporium phlei, Gloeosporium bolleyi, Lophodermium arundinaceum var. gramineum, L. phlei, Marssonina graminicola, Mastigosporium album, Mycosphaerella lineolata, Pellicularia filamentosa, Phaeosphaeria herpotrichoides, Phoma terestris, Phyllachora graminis, Puccinia coronifera f. alopecuri, P. graminis, P. phlei-pratensis, P. poarum, Pyrenochaeta terrestris, Pythium arrhenomanes var. canadense, P. debaryanum, P. graminicola, Rhynchosporium secalis, Sclerophthora macrospora, Sclerotinia borealis, S. graminicola, Scolecotrichum graminis, Selenophoma donacis var. stomaticola, Septogloeum oxysporum, Septoria alopecuri, S. graminum, S. oxysporum, S. phleina, Sporotrichum poae, Stagonospora subseriata, Tilletia paradoxa, Typhula idahoensis, T. itoana,T. trifolii, Urocystis agropyri, Uromyces phlei-michelli, U. phlei-pratensis, Ustilago striiformis, Vermicularia culmigera. It is also attacked by the bacteria Xanthomonas translucens f. sp. phlei-pratensis and var. cerealis. Nematodes isolated from timothy include the following: Anguina sp., Criconemella lobata, Ditylenchus dipsaci, Helicotylenchus pseudorobustus, Heterodera avenae, Meloidogyne hapla, Pratylenchus neglectus, P. penetrans, P. pratensis, Subanguina radicola, Tylencholaimellus striatus, Tylenchorhynchus maximus, Tylenchus hordei, T. phalaridis, and T. tritici (Golden, p.c. 1984).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw