Tall fescue [Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh. = Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort., formerly Festuca arundinacea Schreb. var. arundinacea Schreb.] (see Chapter 2) is the most important cultivated pasture grass in the United States, occupying close to 15 million ha (Buckner et al., 1979). It is a native of Europe but is of minor importance there. Perennial ryegrass (L. perenne L.) is favored in temperate parts of Europe because of its higher nutritive quality and its ability to thrive with mild temperatures and favorable rainfall. The date of tall fescue introduction into the United States is unknown. Meadow fescue [Lolium pratense (Huds.) Darbysh. = Schedonorus pratensis (Huds.) Beauv., formerly Festuca pratensis Huds.] commonly was planted in pastures of humid temperate areas of North America, having been introduced from England before 1800 (Kennedy, 1900). It is likely that tall fescue was a contaminant in meadow fescue seed, nearly all of which was imported from England before 1880 (Vinall, 1909). However, by the late 19th century tall fescue was described as being "an exceedingly valuable grass for mowing or pasture" (Lamson-Scribner, 1896). Reports of grass trials in Kentucky (Garman, 1900) and Virginia (Kennedy, 1900) mention the superior growth, height, competitive ability, and drought tolerance of tall fescue as compared to meadow fescue.

Although testing of tall fescue continued in the United States, it was not planted to any extent until the release in the early 1940s of two cultivars, Alta and Kentucky 31 (KY-31). Alta is an ecotype selected over a number of years beginning in 1918 and released cooperatively by the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station and the USDA (Cowan, 1956). It was selected on the basis of winter hardiness, persistence, and ability to remain green during the dry summers of western Oregon. Alta was rapidly and widely planted in the Pacific Northwest and in the intermountain regions of the western United States.

Kentucky 31 is an ecotype found growing in a steep mountain pasture of eastern Kentucky (Fig. 1-1) and was known to have been there before 1890. Dr. E.N. Fergus, a professor at the University of Kentucky, saw this pasture in 1931 and was impressed that the grass remained green all winter, so he obtained seed for trials. After lengthy testing, KY-31 was released as a cultivar in 1943 (Fergus, 1952; Fergus and Buckner, 1972). The advantages noted were dependability, adaptability to a wide range of soils, and providing grazing over much of the year. Tall fescue soon became popular across the southern United States where no other cool season perennial grass was adapted and persisted in pastures. There was a remarkable ecological change during the 1940s and 1950s as tall fescue transformed the landscape, which previously was mostly barren and brown during the winter season. In addition to widespread planting of tall fescue for forage use, it also became popular for roadside cover and turf.

Click Image to Expand Fig. 1-1. Hillside pasture on William Suiter Farm, Manifee County, KY, from which ‘Kentucky-31' seed was selected=

Fig. 1-1. Hillside pasture on William Suiter Farm, Manifee County, KY, from which ‘Kentucky-31' seed was selected by E.N. Fergus in 1931. (Photo courtesy of International Plant Nutrition Institute, Norcross, GA; published in Southern Forages, 1996.)
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