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Tall Fescue
Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub
Grass family (Poaceae)
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Tall fescue NATIVE RANGE
Europe and North Africa

DESCRIPTION
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).

ECOLOGICAL THREAT
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 vegetation composition.

Click for distribution map of tall fescue; tall rye grass.DISTRIBUTION 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.

Tall fescueHABITAT IN THE UNITED STATES
The primary 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.

BACKGROUND
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.

Tall fescueBIOLOGY & SPREAD
Tall 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.

MANAGEMENT OPTIONS
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.

CONTACTS
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.

OTHER LINKS


AUTHOR
Roger D. Applegate, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, KS

EDITOR
Jil M Swearingen, National Park Service, National Capital Region, Center for Urban Ecology, Washington, DC

REVIEWERS
Wayne Owen, U.S. Forest Service, Ecosystem Planning Biologist, Washington, DC
Phillip Moore, Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department, AR

PHOTOGRAPHS
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, from www.invasive.org
Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, from www.invasive.org

REFERENCES
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/. Accessed 8/28/02.

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.

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Last updated: 07-Jul-2009