The superior drought tolerance of tall fescue has propelled its use as a replacement species for Kentucky bluegrass. In southern California, tall fescue became the predominant lawn turf by the early 1990s, displacing Kentucky bluegrass (J. Rector, personal communication, 2007). A severe drought in 1988 across the Midwest encouraged consumers to seek turfgrasses that could maintain green color during extended periods without precipitation or irrigation. At that time, active breeding programs were releasing superior turf-type tall fescue cultivars, primarily of the dwarf and semidwarf types.
Executive Order 13112, signed by President Clinton in 1999, has the potential to curtail the use of tall fescue in many instances. The Executive Order called for action to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species and to provide for their control. In 2005, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources proposed banning 140 plants which had been listed tentatively as invasive by a local working group (Fitzpatrick, 2007). Tall fescue had been introduced originally into the United States at least by the 1800s (Meyer and Watkins, 2003), with the U.S. Department of Agriculture importing more germplasm from Sweden in 1901 (Terrell, 1979). Through a combination of intentional sowing and naturalization, tall fescue now appears in many parks and areas intended as natural sites, causing it to be identified as an invasive species by groups such as the Alien Plant Working Group of the National Park Service (Alien Plant Working Group, 2007). Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides one instance in which probable sowing of the grass by settlers for livestock forage has resulted in significant amounts of the species persisting in open areas more than 70 yr after the formation of the park (J. Stier, personal observation, 2008). Tall fescue may act as an invasive transformer by dominating plant succession in old fields and altering plant-soil ecosystems (Tunnell et al., 2004) (Fig. 26-18).
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Fig. 26-18. Tall fescue going to seed in a meadow. (Photo by T. Samples.)
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