Meadow Fescue (Festuca pratensis Huds.)

Common Name: Meadow Fescue

Scientific Name: Festuca pratensis Huds.

Synonym: Festuca elatior L.

Alternate common name is English bluegrass.

Family: Poaceae

Tribe: Poeae

Origin: Introduced to North America from England. Native to northern Europe east to Central Asia and south to Caucasus and Asia Minor.

Time of introduction:
Prior to 1800.


Description:

Meadow fescue is a hardy perennial bunchgrass, adapted to cool climates. On fertile soils it grows to 30 inches (75 cm) in height. Leaves are long, slender and bright green with sheaths that are round, glabrous (not hairy), reddish at the base, and split. Meadow fescue's inflorescence is a closed, coarse panicle, nodding at the tip. It thrives in deep, rich soil, but also grows well on calcareous or sandy soils provided they are moist. Because it flourishes in deep, rich soils, it is often used in pasture mixtures on wetlands. Meadow fescue is grown for pasture and hay less than it was in the past due to the general superiority and greater yield of tall fescue. However, it is more palatable to grazing animals than tall fescue and performs well when it is grazed at a height of 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm). Meadow fescue is described as highly susceptible to diseases, but there are no reported problems with insects or nematodes.

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):
Perennial.

Growth habit & Regrowth type:
A tall, tufted, upright growing grass similar to tall fescue (Lolium arundinacea (Schreb.) Darbysh.).

Invasive potential:
Low. No rhizomes or stolons.

Persistence:
Less persistent than tall fescue where tall fescue is most adapted, but more winter hardy. Meadow fescue is commonly used in pasture mixtures in cool, moist environments such as the Canadian Maritime provinces and Scandinavian countries where tall fescue is more likely to winter kill. Meadow fescue prefers moist sites for best production, but does not tolerate flooding. High susceptibility to disease (crown rust and net blotch are most severe).

Identification:

Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Meadow Fescue photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=241

The direct URL for Meadow Fescue is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=178&SpecID=75

Inflorescence: Meadow fescue's inflorescence is a closed, coarse panicle, nodding at the tip, 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm) in length, with branches 1.6 to 2.6 inches (4-6.5 cm) long. Meadow fescue inflorescence.

Spikelets: 1 to 6 fertile spikelets per inflorescence branch, aggragated towards the ends of the branches. Spikelets are 12-15.5 mm long and 2-5 mm wide.
Meadow fescue spikelets image.

Seed: First glume is 2.6 to 4 mm long. Second glume is shorter than first lemma. Rachilla internodes are glabrous. Lemmas are 6 to 8 mm long, glabrous, or with trichomes. Lemmas apices hyaline, acute, or rarely awn-tipped (0-2 mm long). Paleas 6 to 7 mm long. Paleas inter-keel regions pubescent.

Seed closely resemble that of perennial ryegrass. So much so that in earlier years, perennial ryegrass seed was sold as meadow fescue, since the average price of the ryegrass was only 1/4 or 1/5 that of meadow fescue. Meadow fescue seed image.

Stem: Plants softly erect, loosely tufted, with or without purplish bases. Shoots form extravaginally, with or without rhizomes. Culms are 12 to 52 inches (30-130 cm) tall, geniculate (bent) or erect. Culm internodes are glabrous. No stolons.

Leaf: Vernation is rolled. Leaf blades are 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm) long and 3 to 5 mm wide, with rough edges. Upper surfaces are dull and rough, and prominently ridged. Lower surfaces are glossy and smooth. Leaf sheaths are round, glabrous (not hairy), reddish at the base, and split. Meadow fescue leaf image.

Collar: Collar is mostly divided, broad, distinct, and glabrous. Ligule is membranous, rounded, ciliate on margins, and 0.2-0.6 mm in length. Auricles are 0.7-1.1 mm long, conspicuously smooth, claw-like or blunt. Meadow fescue collar image.

Root: Medium depth, fibrous root system, 8 to 15 inches (20-38 cm) deep. Typically without rhizomes. Meadow fescue roots image.

Physiology and growth period:
Cool-season (C3) grass, with good spring and autumn grown once well established in the 3rd year. Initiates growth at 41 F (5 C), optimum is from 68-72 F (20-22 C), and stops growth at 86 F (30 C). Provides good winter growth in mild winter areas. Culmless regrowth.

Reproduction:
Tall fescue and meadow fescue are closely related to both perennial and Italian ryegrass and intergeneric crosses have been reported. Like tall fescue, meadow fescue is a cross-fertilizing species and is largely self-sterile. Thus, individuals are highly heterozygous and potuplations are heterogeneous.

Quality/anti-quality factors:
Recognized as an excellent pasture grass in western Europe, but not extensively used in the US due to high disease susceptibility. Contains an endophyte (Acremonium uncinatum ), but it's not known if this endophyte has similar effect on the plants or grazing animals as the endophyte found in tall fescue.

Photographs/drawings:


Adaptation:

Meadow fescue grows best under cool, moist conditions. It flourishes in deep, rich soils, and can be grown in the about the same region as timothy. It is often used in pasture mixtures on wetlands. Once established, meadow fescue also performs well under drier conditions for making hay or silage.

Suitability zones:
Meadow fescue is adapted to cool climates ranging from Boreal Moist to Rain through Subtropical Dry Forest Life Zones. In native areas, it is found in meadows, forest margins, and thin forests.

Map:

Tolerances:

Quantitiative Table:

July
Max Temp (C)
Jan
Min Temp (C)
Annual
Precip (mm)
Soil pH Soil Drainage
(categories)
Soil Salinity
(mmhos/cm)
Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High
Well Adapted 22 32 -10 9999 500 9999 5.5 8.0 SPD MWD 0 4
Moderate 20 34 -15 9999 450 9999 5.0 8.5 SPD WD 0 8
Marginal 18 36 -20 9999 400 9999 4.5 9.0 SPD SED 0 12
1. For the High values for January Minimum temperature and Annual Precipitation: "9999 is entered to indicate no limit to the high values for this tolerance category."
2. For Soil Drainage categories, " Abbreviations are used for Soil Drainage categories: VPD (very poorly drained), PD (poorly drained), SPD (somewhat poorly drained), MWD (moderately well drained), WD (well drained), SED (somewhat excessively drained), ED (excessively drained)."

Climate: Mean minimum January temperature tolerance of -13 F (-25 C) and July mean max of 104 F (40 C). Suited to areas with mean annual precipitation of 12 to 53 inches (320 to 1360 mm).

Soils: Thrives in deep, rich soil, but also grows well on calcareous or sandy soils provided they are moist. pH tolerance is approximately 4.5 to 8.2. Meadow fescue is tolerant of salinity levels between 0 and 12 mmhos/cm.

Grazing Management: Meadow fescue performs well when grazed. Use the same management as for tall fescue; allow it to reach 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm), then graze to 3 to 4 inches (7.75-10 cm).

Turf Management: Meadow fescue is not typically used as a turf species.

Pests: Diseases: Meadow fescue is described as highly susceptible to diseases. This, and lower yield than tall fescue are primary causes for its lack of use in the USA.

Pests: Insects: None reported.

Pests: Nematodes: None reported.


Cultivars:

Numerous cultivars of meadow fescue have been developed by European breeding programs. The Germplasm Resources Infomration Network (GRIN; http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/) lists 233 accessions. 79 of these have a cultivar name or appear to have been derived from a breeding program (Casler and van Santen, 2001).


Establishment:

Meadow fescue can be seeded in early spring or late summer. For spring plantings allow 4-6 weeks prior to dry summer conditions and a similar period for fall plantings prior to first freeze.

Seeding rate:
Plant 15-20 lbs/acre (17-22 kg/ha) when planted alone or 8-12 lbs/acre (9-13 kg/ha) when planted as part of a pasture mix.

Seeding depth:
Seeding depth should be between 0.25 and 0.5 inches (0.5 - 1.25 cm). When planted with a legume, 0.25 inches (0.5 cm) is preferred.

Fertilization and liming:
Meadow fescue requires a moderate level of fertility for good pasture productivity. Use a soil test and follow recommendations for tall fescue if local tests have not been conducted for meadow fescue. Use 30-40 lbs/acre (34-45 kg/ha) of nitrogen at establishment and split N applications throughout the year to provide a better distribution of forage yield. Use 50 lbs N/acre (56 kg/ha) after each grazing or harvest period.


Uses:

Meadow fescue is considered a good grazing grass, used to a lesser extent for hay. It is valuable for pasture in permanent grassland areas, being grown in areas suitable for timothy. It is not suitable for short rotation uses, as establishment is slow. It is very palatable and equal to perennial ryegrass for grazing by dairy cattle on suitable soils. Meadow fescue is used in pasture mixtures on wetlands and for erosion control in humid northern regions, particularly in eastern and northern Europe.

Seed crop:
Seed harvest is reported to average about 300 kg/ha (268 lbs/acre).

Forage:
Meadow fescue is slow to establish and requires a well prepared seedbed. It combines well with clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa, and other grasses, such as timothy and orchardgrass. Meadow fescue produces a large proportion of leafy bottom growth.

Erosion Control/Conservation:
Meadow fescue would be well suited to use in erosion control in wet soil areas and as a wetland pasture grass.

Wildlife habitat and feed:
Included at about 15-20% in seed mixtures for wildlife and conservation uses.

Turf:
Meadow fescue is not typically used as a turf species.


Economic value:

Seed:
North American seed production for meadow fescue is centered in Oregon, Missouri, and Canada. Total planted area is approximately 7,000 acres (2,835 hectares) and production is about 3 million pounds (1.362 million kg). Farmgate value is $1.95 million, wholesale value is $2,437,500 and retail value is $3,412,500.

Forage:
Forage acreage is unknown, but dividing annual production (3 million pounds) by seeding rate (20 lbs/acre) indicates 150,000 acres could be seeded each year (many more acres if used as a part of the mixture). If pasture on these acres was valued at $300/acre, total value would be $45 million.

Soil and water conservation:
Contribution to soil and water conservation could be considerable if most of the seedings were for wetland pastures. Improvements in water quality and reduced soil erosion are important contributions of cool season grasses.

Turf:
Meadow fescue is not typically used as a turf species.


References:

  1. Casler, M.D. and E. van Santen. 2001. Performance of Meadow fescue Accessions Under Management-intensive Grazing. Crop Sci. 41:1946-1953. Available at http://www.dfrc.wisc.edu/DFRCWebPDFs/2001-Casler-CS-41-1946.pdf (verified 12 July 2004).
  2. Duke, J.A. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops [Online]. Purdue University. Available at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Festuca_pratensis.html (verified 12 July 2004).
  3. Farmest.com Web Segment [Online]. 2004. Tips for Identifying Perennial Grasses. Available at http://www.farmwest.com/library/article.cfm?bookid=1&chapterid=23&articleid=9 (verified 12 July 2004).
  4. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) [Online]. 2004. Available at http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/ (verified 12 July 2004).
  5. Jacques, D. 2002. The identification of certain native and naturalized grasses by their vegetative characters. Canadian Agriculture Library (CAL) [Online]. Available at http://www.agr.gc.ca/cal/epub/762e/762_toc_e.html (verified 12 July 2004).
  6. Purdue Univ. New Crop Resource Online Program. 2004. Meadow Fescue. Available at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/Crops/Meadow_fescue.html (verified 12 July 2004).
  7. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/plant_profile.cgi?symbol=LOPR7 (verified 12 July 2004).
  8. Xiang Chen, S.G. Aiken, and M.J. Dallwitz (2002 onwards). Festuca of China: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. Version: 4th February 2003. Available at http://cdelta.ibcas.ac.cn/chi/www/tfepe.htm (verified 12 July 2004).


Authors:
David B. Hannaway, Dan Myers, and Christina Larson, Oregon State University
Marc Cool, Barenbrug - USA

Document creation:
04 June 2004

Last update:
13 August 2004

Reviewers:

James B. Cropper, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Marty Chaney, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Mike Casler, University of Wisconsin (Contacted, will review in late Summer)

Review date:
22 June 2004 (Cropper)
06 July 2004 (Chaney)