Timothy grass tufts with flowering stalks growing in an open area against a wooded background
Scientific Name
Phleum pratense
Poaceae (grasses)

Timothy is a common, perennial (often short-lived), tuft-forming, cool-season pasture grass that occurs in a wide variety of open or disturbed habitats. Its flower heads are distinctive dense, cylindrical spikes, and the stems are usually swollen and bulblike at the base. The root system is shallow and fibrous and does not form a sod.

Timothy is usually rather pale green. The leaf blades can be about a foot long and about ¼ inch wide. The leaf sheaths are rounded on the back. The ligule (a membrane at the junction of the leaf sheath and leaf blade) may be almost ¼ inch long. The top leaf blade points upward, is relatively short, and has a notably long sheath.

The cylindrical, densely packed flower heads are 1–6 inches long and unbranched. The individual spikelets are up to 3 mm long and flattened. Flowers May–August.

Similar species: The densely packed, cylindrical flower clusters and bulbous stem bases make Timothy easy to learn. It is very common in disturbed habitats such as roadsides. However, meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) looks similar at a glance. The individual spikelets are different, however: Timothy has a pair of distinct points, like horns, at the top of each little spikelet, while those of meadow foxtail lack the two horns but have a single, hairlike awn at the top of each spikelet. Like Timothy, meadow foxtail was introduced to North America from Eurasia and occurs in pastures and disturbed areas. It is not as common in Missouri as Timothy.

Other Common Names
Timothy Grass

Height: flowering stems usually 20–40 inches.

Where To Find


Occurs in upland prairies, margins of ponds, and banks of streams; also pastures, crop fields, old fields, ditches, roadsides, railroads, and open, disturbed areas.

A native of Europe, Timothy has been widely naturalized in the United States and Canada.

Introduced, widely naturalized, perennial (often short-lived), tuft-forming, cool-season grass.

Timothy is planted widely in pastures and is an important hay and forage species nationally. It generally doesn’t tolerate close grazing or regular, close mowing.

Timothy is one of the worst causes of hay fever in the late spring and early summer.

The curious name “Timothy” originated with a farmer named Timothy Hanson of Maryland. In about 1720, he promoted its use as a pasture and hay plant in the U.S. colonies.

“Timothy Hay” was one of the pen names used by the prolific children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown. Apparently she got the nickname because her blond hair reminded her friends of Timothy hay. Some of her books include Goodnight Moon, My World, The Little Island, and The Runaway Bunny. She used the “Timothy Hay” pen name for a book about horses!

Quail and other seed-eating birds and rodents eat the seeds. A variety of plant-eating mammals eat the foliage, including deer and voles.

A wide variety of insects feed on Timothy or its juices, including spittlebugs, thrips, aphids, stink bugs, grasshoppers and katydids, weevils, leaf beetles, and certain types of fly, moth, and butterfly larvae.

Timothy seed is often included in seed mixes, along with the seeds of other grasses and/or legumes, that are used for covering bare soils along roads after construction projects and for a variety of other erosion-control purposes. Timothy, being rather shallow-rooted and short-lived, isn’t usually a long-term solution in these cases, but it can help hold the soil long enough for other plants to get established.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!