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Nature Guide






















tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus)























tall fescue

reed fescue

Kentucky fescue



Festuca arundinacea Schreb.

Festuca elatior L. ssp. arundinacea (Schreb.) Hack.

Festuca elatior L. var. arundinacea (Schreb.) Wimm.

Festuca fenas Lag.

Festuca uechtritziana Wiesb.

Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) S.J. Darbyshire

Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for tall fes-

cue is Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort., nom. cons.

The synonym Festuca arundinacea can still be encountered in the



Cultivars include ‘Alta’, ‘Goar’, and ‘Fawn’ used in the western U.S.; ‘Kentucky 31’ used in the eastern and central USA and ‘Kenmount’ used in both the southeast and in the Great Plains.


NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.


GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Tall fescue is a densely cespitose to short-rhizomatous, cool-season, long-lived, perennial grass. This tall grass (up to 6 ft. [1.8 m]) remains green in winter and spring. The moderately stout stem is unbranched with 1-3 swollen, light green nodes near the base. A tuft produces 10-30 flowering stalks with the inflorescence an open to narrow branched panicle. Tall fescue culms are hollow and grow 0.5-2 m from basal tufts. Leaf blades are coarse and thick and prominently ridge-veined above. Blades are 5-70 cm long and 4-10 mm wide with ciliate auricles. The first node of the panicle has 2-3 branches, each with 5-15 spikelets, 3-6-flowered. The first glume is 4-6 mm long, the second 5-9 mm long. Lemmas are 7-8.5 mm (or more) long, scabrous distally. The awn is 0.3-2 mm long. Seeds are somewhat dark in color and, as in all grasses, the fruit is a caryopsis. Tall fescue roots are tough and coarse and penetrate to a depth of 150 cm in moist soils.

REGENERATION PROCESS: Although it reseeds, tall fescue spreads mainly through rhizomes and can form extensive colonies that compete with and displace native vegetation.


HABITAT TYPES: Tall fescue occurs in most ecosystems, but particularly grasslands. Tall fescue is adapted to a wide range of conditions and is cultivated for pasture, from which it often escapes, and may be found in grazed woodlands. Large areas of native grasslands have been replanted with this and other forage species. Tall fescue occurs in disturbed habitats such as along roads, ditches, railroad tracks, and other moist, disturbed places. Tall fescue can also be found as a weed in cultivated areas, fallow and abandoned fields, meadows, and marshes.


Tall fescue can invade open, natural communities and displace native species. This is most likely when tall fescue already grows in the area, (i.e. along nearby roadsides or other disturbed areas) and when the natural community has either been subjected to disturbance or where the natural fire regime has been suppressed.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Tall fescue is mesic in its moisture requirements, but is also tolerant of poor drainage, winter flooding, fairly high water tables, and drought. Tall fescue yields are reduced by soil water level fluctuations and periodic flooding, but the species is more tolerant of such conditions than several other forage grasses. Tall fescue grows best on deep, fertile, silty to clayey loam (medium to heavy texture) soils, with considerable humus content. However, with adequate moisture tall fescue is tolerant of most soil textures, including sandy soils. Tall fescue grows best in open sunlight and is somewhat suppressed by shade.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Typical of cool-season grasses, peak growth occurs in spring during the period of reproductive growth. In many production areas, nearly two-thirds of annual growth occurs at this time. A secondary peak of vegetative growth occurs in autumn.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Tall fescue may be found throughout the

United States and Canada. Only North Dakota and Manitoba have yet to

report the occurrence of tall fescue.




Grass specimens can be found on trails marked in red.


       Bleak House
       Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
       South Ridge/North Ridge
       Gap Run
       Woodpecker Lane

       Sherman's Mill
       Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
       Fish Pond


The specific distribution of tall fescue has not been determined.


IMPORTANCE AND USES: Songbirds consume tall fescue seeds, and both seeds and foliage are used by small mammals. However, some small mammals feeding on fescue infected by the endophyte may become ill as a result of the toxins the endophyte produces. Fields dominated by tll fescue were found to be poor habitat for bobwhite and quail in Kentucky due to lack of high quality, preferred foods, and improper vegetation structure and composition for nesting and foraging habitat. Tall fescue palatability for elk has been reported as poor and elk may show a preference for other grasses. Several studies showed varying preferences by white tailed deer for tall fescue. Because of its ability to outcompete native vegetation, tall fescue should not be used for wetland mitigation, reforestation, or rehabilitation where managing for wildlife and plant diversity are intended.


For humans, tall fescue is a "mixed blessing" plant - with significant benefits and disadvantages. For example, tall fescue invades a variety of open habitats including fields, forest margins, roadsides, forest openings and savannas. It spreads mainly through rhizomes and can form extensive colonies that com-

pete with and displace native vegetation. It is frequently infected with a endophytic fungus that can causes illness in livestock and some wild animals. Tall fescue is native to Europe and was first introduced into the United States in the early to mid 1800s. The ecotype, Kentucky 31, was discovered in the 1930s and widely planted for livestock forage. Tall fescue has been widely planted for turf, forage and erosion control.


Tall fescue is commonly planted as a cool-season forage grass with yields often exceeding other forage species and with a wide range of tolerance of soil, temperature and moisture conditions. Plant breeding to improve tall fescue and to develop improved yields and palatability has been extensive. The species is palatable to livestock when the leaves are young, but becomes somewhat coarse, tough, and unpalatable with age. Its nutritive value drops during its summer dormant period. Energy value is rated fair while protein value is rated fair to poor. Tall fescue grows best in cooler seasons and stays green into late fall. Although it withstands high temperatures and maintains some production during the summer, it does not produce good quality forage under these conditions. Tall fescue can be grazed earlier than warm-season grasses, a feature which lengthens the grazing season and the carrying capacity of pasture and range. In the southern and midwestern U.S., tall fescue may remain productive through drought periods as the extensive root system enables it to obtain moisture from deeper soil layers. However, tall fescue is intolerant of protracted drought.


Tall fescue provides good cover for areas where a long-lived, tenacious, deep-rooted grass is needed, such as airports, playgrounds, parking lots, cuts and fills, eroding gullies, and waterways and dikes. The species has been used to revegetate highway corridors but care should be taken to avoid planting it where it can easily spread into adjacent natural grasslands.


Tall fescue may be useful in some reclamation and rehabilitation work. It produces coarse, tough roots that prevent erosion and decrease soil density. Large amounts of organic matter are left behind after each season that also act to improve soil texture for other species.



Back to Inventory of Grass Families and Species

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