Europe and North Africa
Tall fescue, previously
known as Festuca and Lolium arundinaceum, is a cool season, perennial, sod-forming
bunchgrass. It is a coarse and long-lived grass, with each bunch having 10
to 30 hollow stems, also known as culms, that are 1 - 6 ft. tall (0.5-2 m).
The culms bear a branched flowering structure called a panicle with 5 to
15 flower spikelets that are ½ to ¾ in. (10-19 mm) long, each
spikelet containing 3 to 10 florets. The lemmas are about 1/3 in. (7-9 mm)
long and have awns that are 1/100 to 2/10 in. (0.3-4 mm) long. The leaf blades
are 4 to 24 in. (10-61 cm) long and 0.2 to 4.0 in. (4-10 mm) wide. Mature
panicles have a purplish cast which helps to distinguish them from other
grasses. The ciliate auricles (earlike structures at the base of the leaf)
help to distinguish tall fescue from meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis).
Tall fescue invades
native grasslands, savannas, woodlands and other high-light natural habitats.
In the Midwest, many thousands of acres of native prairie have been seeded
with tall fescue for well meaning but misguided conservation purposes. In
the Ozarks, woodlands and barrens were converted to tall fescue pasture to
enhance grazing income. Some varieties of tall fescue, including Kentucky
31, harbor a mutualistic fungal endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophialum)
that gives it a competitive advantage over some plants, including legumes.
As a result, communities dominated by tall fescue are often low in plant
species richness. In addition, alkaloids produced by endophyte-infected tall
fescue may be toxic to small mammals and of low palatability to ungulates
(such as cattle, deer and elk). Many ground-nesting birds, including Bobwhite
quail (Colinus virginianus), are unable to use tall fescue fields
as foraging or nesting habitat because of a lack of habitat structure and
IN THE UNITED STATES
Tall fescue occurs throughout the continental
U.S. and has been reported to be invasive in natural areas in Arkansas,
Georgia, Kansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey,
Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
HABITAT IN THE UNITED STATES
habitats for tall fescue are agricultural fields and pastures and former
tall-grass prairie. Tall fescue tolerates nutrient poor, compacted, and acidic
soils. It also grows well in disturbed and waste areas such as highway and
railroad right of ways. However, to maintain optimal grazing conditions,
annual nitrogen inputs are needed.
Tall fescue was imported
to the United States in the late 1800s. Major planting efforts for pasture
improvement and erosion control began in the 1940’s. In the 1960’s,
tall fescue was promoted for converting “poor” Ozark woodlands
into productive rangeland. The variety K31 is widely used as a turf grass.
Tall fescue is still promoted by a variety of agricultural agencies, however,
the USDA Forest Service Southern Region recently (2001) prohibited the use
of endophytic enhanced tall fescue on Forest Service lands.
BIOLOGY & SPREAD
fescue spreads by vegetative means and by seed. Viable seeds can be dispersed
by grazing animals and birds and remain in the seedbank for a long time.
A common goal of
management is to restore, to the extent possible, native vegetation on a
site. Sites that were planted into crop fields (bare ground) require spring
burning and herbicide treatment. It is important to burn fescue after green-up
but before it becomes too green to burn. After the fescue has started to
regrow and is 4-8 in. (10-20 cm) high, apply 20 gallons/acre (76 l/0.4 ha)
of a mixture of 1 quart (0.9 l) glyphosate, 8-12 oz. (237-355 ml) of imazapic,
1 quart (0.9 l) methylated seed oil, and 17 lbs (8 kg) of ammonium sulfate
per 100 gals (379 l) of water. In sites where fescue was seeded on native
grass, grazing and nitrogen should be withdrawn, and the site burned the
following spring. By discontinuing nitrogen and burning, the fescue is set
back. Withdrawing grazing protects the native grasses already present in
the field so that they have an opportunity to develop dominance. Other options
include burning, plowing, and seeding to an agricultural crop prior to reseeding
with native plants.
USE PESTICIDES WISELY: ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE PESTICIDE LABEL CAREFULLY, FOLLOW ALL MIXING AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS AND WEAR ALL RECOMMENDED PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR AND CLOTHING. CONTACT YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOR ANY ADDITIONAL PESTICIDE USE REQUIREMENTS, RESTRICTIONS OR RECOMMENDATIONS.
NOTICE: MENTION OF PESTICIDE PRODUCTS ON THIS WEB SITE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT OF ANY MATERIAL.
For more information on the management
of tall fescue, please contact:
SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE PLANTS
Mixtures of native
warm season grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little
bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum),
sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum
dactyloides), and native forbs.
Roger D. Applegate, Kansas Department
of Wildlife and Parks, KS
Jil M Swearingen, National Park Service,
National Capital Region, Center for Urban Ecology, Washington, DC
Wayne Owen, U.S. Forest Service, Ecosystem
Planning Biologist, Washington, DC
Phillip Moore, Arkansas State Highway & Transportation
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, from www.invasive.org
Fishel, F. 1999. Missouri
Weeds. The University of Missouri-System Board of Curators. http://www.psu.missouri.edu/fishel/grass_and_grasslike_plant_key.htm
Hannaway, D., S. Fransen, J. Cropper,
M. Teel, M. Chaney, T. Griggs, R. Halse, J.
Hart, P. Cheeke, D. Hansen, R. Klinger,
and W. Lane. 1999. Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.). PNW
504. Oregon State University Cooperative Extension, Corvallis, OR.
Hodges, J. 1998. How to kill tall
fescue—the recipe for success. Quail Unlimited Magazine, January-February.
Hoveland, C. S., J. H. Bouton, and
R. G. Durham. 1999. Fungal endophyte effects on production of legumes associated
with tall fescue. Agronomy Journal 91:897-902.
Missouri Department of Conservation.
Tall fescue and Missouri wildlife. www.conservation.state.mo.us/landown/grass/fescue/.
Mitchell, R. L., A. L. Ewing, and
W. E. McMurphy. 1985. N, P, and K fertlization of tall fescue (Festuca
arundinacea Schreb.) overseeded range in eastern Oklahoma. Journal of
Range Management 38(5):455-457.
Redmon, L. A., P. W. Pratt, and
R. L. Woods. Tall fescue in Oklahoma. Extension Facts F-2559. Oklahoma Cooperative
Extension Service, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.
Roberts, C. 2000. Tall fescue toxicosis.
MU Guide G4669. University of Missouri Extension, Columbia, MO. muestension.missouri.edu.
Spyreas, G., D. J. Gibson, and B.
A. Middleton. 2001. Effects of endophyte infection in tall fescue (Festuca
arundinacea: Poaceae) on community diversity. International Journal of
Plant Science 162(6):1237-1245.
Swearingen, J. 2009. WeedUS Database of Plants Invading Natural Areas in the United States: Tall Fescue (Schedonorus phoenix). http://www.invasive.org/weedus/subject.html?sub=3037.
USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
Virginia Native Plant Society. Invasive
alien plant species of Virginia tall fescue (Festuca elatior L.).
Virginia Native Plant Society, Annandale, VA.
Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group.