Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Festuca arundinacea
(tall fescue)

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Datasheet

Festuca arundinacea (tall fescue)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 27 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Festuca arundinacea
  • Preferred Common Name
  • tall fescue
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Festuca arundinacea, commonly known as tall fescue, is a cool season, long-lived, perennial, C3 species of bunchgrass native to Europe. In many places it was initially introduced as a lawn and pasture grass. It...

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Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Festuca arundinacea Schreb.

Preferred Common Name

  • tall fescue

Other Scientific Names

  • Aira oryzetorum Spreng.
  • Avena secunda Salisb.
  • Brachypodium interruptum (Desf.) Roem. & Schult.
  • Bromus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Roth
  • Bucetum elatius (L.) Parn.
  • Festuca elatior L.
  • Gnomonia elatior (L.) Lunell
  • Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.
  • Poa elatior (L.) Moench
  • Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort.
  • Schedonorus elatior (L.) P.Beauv.
  • Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub
  • Tragus elatior (L.) Panz.

International Common Names

  • English: alata fescue; alta fescue; coarse fescue; Kentucky fescue; reed fescue
  • Spanish: cañuela alta; festuca canosa; zacate fescua
  • French: fétuque élevée; fétuque faux roseau; fétuque roseau
  • Russian: ovsyanitsa trostnikovaya
  • Chinese: wei zhuang yang mao
  • Portuguese: erva-corneira

Local Common Names

  • Germany: Rohrschwingel
  • Italy: festuca alta
  • Japan: oniushinokegusa
  • Netherlands: rietzwenkgras
  • Poland: kostrzewa trzcinowa
  • Sweden: roersvingel

EPPO code

  • FESAR (Festuca arundinacea)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Festuca arundinacea, commonly known as tall fescue, is a cool season, long-lived, perennial, C3 species of bunchgrass native to Europe. In many places it was initially introduced as a lawn and pasture grass. Its use spread from Europe to North America during the early to mid-1800s due to its high growth rate, resilience against drought and protection against herbivory. In its introduced range, F. arundinacea has escaped cultivation and invaded wild areas. It has become an invasive species and noxious weed in native grasslands, woodlands and other habitats, reducing native biodiversity. It has documented associations with fungal endophytes such as Neotyphodium coenophialum, which may be the reason for the plant’s success. The endophyte produces bioactive alkaloids which give the plant protection against predation by insects, larger grazers and even nematodes. Following the introduction of F. arundinacea as a forage grass, particularly in North America, reports of poor animal performance emerged. Ergot alkaloids produced within the grass have been linked to fescue toxicosis in animals, which can lead to aborted foetuses in livestock and some wild animals. Endophyte-free grasses are much less aggressive than their infected counterparts, and so do not pose the same threats.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Festuca
  •                                 Species: Festuca arundinacea

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Festuca arundinacea was first described by the German naturalist von Schreber in 1771, moved to the genus Schedonorus by Dumortier in 1824 and moved again to the genus Lolium under the name Lolium arundinaceum by Darbyshire in 1993. The genus Schedonorus was resurrected in 1998 and the name Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort. was conserved against the earlier name Schedonorus arundinaceus Roem. & Schult. (Soreng et al., 2001). Festuca arundinacea is now classified in the subgenus Schedonorus, a subgenus very closely related to Lolium, which has led to proposals that species within this subgroup should be reclassified as Lolium, meaning that tall fescue would become Lolium arundinacea (Hand et al., 2010) which is an accepted synonym. The name Festuca arundinacea is widely used and recognised within the agricultural, veterinary and scientific communities, as well as within lawn care and landscaping businesses, so that any further name changes would be hard to establish (Soreng et al., 2001).

Description

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F. arundinacea is a perennial grass producing large, loose, but sometimes dense, tussocks, normally without short rhizomes, and without stolons. Culms are unbranched, smooth (or rough below panicle) and erect, (39-)45-120(-200) cm long. The lower sheaths are not fused, and are smooth and rounded on the back. Ligule, < 2 mm, membranous with ciliate auricles (cilia often few and wearing off with age). Leaves, dark-green, stiff, usually flat, 10–60(-105) cm long, (1-)3-12 mm wide, distinctly ribbed above, rough or smooth below only, scabrous on margin, and tapering to a fine tip. Panicles (6-)10-50 cm long, lax and wide, erect or pendant, lanceolate to ovate, green or purplish, with many rough branches, which are mostly in pairs; lowest two nodes with 2-3 subequal branches, each with 5-15 spikelets, the shorter branch with (3-)4-many spikelets. Pedicels up to 8 mm long. Spikelets elliptic to oblong; (8-)9-18 mm long, with 3-10 florets, disarticulating beneath each lemma at maturity. Glumes persistent, often purple-tinged, subequal to equal, pointed; lower narrowly lanceolate, 3-6 mm long, one-nerved; upper lanceolate to lanceolate-oblong, 4.5-7 mm long. Lemmas rounded on back, overlapping, or with margins incurved, lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate in side view, pointed to blunt, 6-7.5(-10) mm long, firm except for the membranous upper margins, five-nerved, broadly rounded on back with fine, rough awn, when present, 0.5-3.5(-6) mm extension of the middle nerve. Paleas as long as lemmas with rough keels. Three stamens with anthers 3-4 mm long. Ovary glabrous. Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; glabrous (Gibson and Newman, 2001; Clayton et al., 2016).

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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F. arundinacea is native to large parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa (USDA-NRCS, 2016). It has been widely planted in other temperate regions (Spyreas et al., 2001) due to its importance as a pasture grass (Gibson and Newman, 2001), and is naturalized in many areas outside its native range (Preston and Hill, 1997).

According to the Flora of China (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016) and eMonocot (2016), the native range of F. arundinacea covers the whole of Europe (apart from northern European Russia and Iceland), Central Asia as far east as Xinjiang in China, and northern Asia (to northwestern Siberia). The southern distribution includes North Africa, from Libya to Morocco. The introduced range encompasses most states of the USA (including Alaska and Hawaii), most southern Canadian provinces, parts of Mexico, some Caribbean islands, most provinces of China, Japan, southern Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand’s North Island, and several countries in South America and Africa, including South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Both endophyte-free and infected strains are widespread, with the latter being predominantly responsible for the plant’s invasive status (Malinowski and Belesky, 2000).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

AfghanistanWidespreadNativeeMonocot, 2016
ArmeniaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
AzerbaijanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
ChinaPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-GansuPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-HeilongjiangPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-HubeiPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-JiangxiPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-JilinPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-LiaoningPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-Nei MengguPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-QinghaiPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-ShaanxiPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-SichuanPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-XinjiangPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-YunnanPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
-ZhejiangPresentIntroducedWu et al., 2006
Georgia (Republic of)PresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
IndiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016East and West Himalayas
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Irian JayaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
IranPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
IraqPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
IsraelPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
JapanPresentIntroduced1905 Invasive eMonocot, 2016; Invasive Species of Japan, 2016
-HokkaidoPresentIntroduced Invasive Invasive Species of Japan, 2016
-HonshuPresentIntroduced Invasive Invasive Species of Japan, 2016
-KyushuPresentIntroduced Invasive Invasive Species of Japan, 2016
-ShikokuPresentIntroduced Invasive Invasive Species of Japan, 2016
JordanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
KazakhstanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
Korea, DPRPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
Korea, Republic ofPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
KyrgyzstanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
LebanonPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
PakistanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016In Baluchistan
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
SyriaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
TaiwanPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
TajikistanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
TurkeyPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016Including Turkey in Europe
TurkmenistanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
UzbekistanPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016

Africa

AlgeriaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
EgyptPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
EthiopiaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
KenyaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
LibyaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
MoroccoPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
South AfricaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016In Cape, Free State and possibly KwaZulu-Natal
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016
TunisiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlbertaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-British ColumbiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-New BrunswickWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
-Nova ScotiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-OntarioWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-Prince Edward IslandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-QuebecWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-SaskatchewanWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-Yukon TerritoryWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
MexicoPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-AlaskaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-ArizonaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-ArkansasWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-CaliforniaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive California Invasive Plant Council, 2016
-ColoradoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-ConnecticutWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-DelawareWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-District of ColumbiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-FloridaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-GeorgiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016; USDA-NRCS, 2016
-IdahoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-IllinoisWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-IndianaPresentIntroduced Invasive Walsh, 1995
-IowaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-KansasPresentIntroduced Invasive Saha et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2016
-KentuckyWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-LouisianaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MaineWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MarylandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MassachusettsWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MichiganWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MinnesotaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MississippiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MissouriWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-MontanaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-NebraskaPresentIntroduced Invasive Saha et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2016
-NevadaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-New HampshireWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-New JerseyWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-New MexicoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-New YorkWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-North CarolinaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-North DakotaPresentIntroduced Invasive Batcher, 2000
-OhioWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-OklahomaPresentIntroduced Invasive Saha et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2016
-OregonWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-PennsylvaniaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-Rhode IslandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-South CarolinaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-South DakotaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-TennesseeWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-TexasWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Cheater, 1992
-UtahWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-VermontWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-VirginiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-WashingtonWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-West VirginiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-WisconsinWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016
-WyomingWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2016

Central America and Caribbean

Costa RicaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
GuatemalaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
HaitiPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
JamaicaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016In south and northeast regions
BoliviaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
BrazilPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016In south Brazil
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016
ChilePresentIntroduced Invasive eMonocot, 2016; PIER, 2016In south and central regions, and Juan Fernandez Islands
ColombiaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
EcuadorPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
UruguayPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016

Europe

AlbaniaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
AustriaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
BelarusPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
BelgiumPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
BulgariaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
CroatiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
CyprusPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
Czech RepublicPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
DenmarkPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
EstoniaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
FinlandPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
FrancePresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-CorsicaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
GermanyPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
GreecePresentNativeeMonocot, 2016Including Crete
HungaryPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
IrelandPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
ItalyPresentNativePiano et al., 2005; eMonocot, 2016Including Sicily and Sardinia
LatviaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
LithuaniaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
MoldovaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
NetherlandsPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
NorwayPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
PolandPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
PortugalPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-AzoresPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016
-MadeiraPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
RomaniaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
Russian FederationPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-Central RussiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-Southern RussiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
-Western SiberiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
SerbiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
SlovakiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
SloveniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
SpainPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016Including the Balearic Islands
SwedenPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
SwitzerlandPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
UKWidespreadNativeGibson and Newman, 2001; eMonocot, 2016
UkrainePresentNativeeMonocot, 2016

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced1901 Invasive Easton et al., 1994; PIER, 2016
-Australian Northern TerritoryLocalisedIntroducedQueensland Government, 2016
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016; Queensland Government, 2016
-QueenslandLocalisedIntroducedQueensland Government, 2016
-South AustraliaLocalisedIntroducedQueensland Government, 2016
-TasmaniaWidespreadIntroducedQueensland Government, 2016
-VictoriaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Queensland Government, 2016
-Western AustraliaLocalisedIntroducedQueensland Government, 2016
New ZealandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Gibson and Newman, 2001; eMonocot, 2016; PIER, 2016
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016

History of Introduction and Spread

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Tall fescue was introduced into the USA from Europe sometime in the 19th century, according to some in the early 1800s (Duble, 2016), but according to Hannaway et al. (1999) in the late 1800s, with early performance tests conducted at the Utah and Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Stations and in Washington, DC. Tall fescue did not become a prominent forage grass in the USA, however, until the 1940s, and is now present in all states, as well as southern Canada.

In Australia, F. arundinacea was first documented in Victoria in 1901 (Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, 2008). Introduced there as a pasture grass, it is now widely naturalized in the temperate regions of southern Australia (eastern New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, many parts of South Australia and south-western Western Australia). It is also found occasionally naturalized in the southern parts of the Northern Territory and south-eastern Queensland (Queensland Government, 2016).

F. arundinacea was first recorded in Japan in 1905, having been imported as a pasture grass. It now occurs on the main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku and is considered an invasive alien, occurring in grasslands, farm fields, urban areas, vacant lots and along streams and waterfronts (Invasive Species of Japan, 2016). 

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia UK 1901 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes Easton et al. (1994)
Japan 1905 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes Invasive Species of Japan (2016)
USA Europe 1800-1890 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes Duble (2016); Hannaway et al. (1999)

Risk of Introduction

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As a widely used pasture grass, the possibility for further spread is high. Endophyte-infected grass shows good growth in difficult habitats and so is often favoured by farmers, despite its potential toxicity (Easton et al., 1994). The endophyte-free grass is frequently used where animal welfare is an important factor, but does not possess the same resilience to difficult conditions (Hoveland, 1993) and so the risk of spread is slightly lessened. F. arundinacea has a slow lateral spread (St. John et al., 2009) and so the risk of large scale spread by this method is low. The main risks of spread come through deliberate introduction for use in agriculture or as a turf grass, and through the grass’s natural rhizome spread.

Habitat

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F. arundinacea grows in a large range of habitats; in the British Isles alone it can be found in habitats as wide ranging as meadows, salt marshes and cliff tops (Gibson and Newman, 2001). It can be found growing in soils with varying nutrient levels, but tends to prefer conditions which are moist for the majority of the year. Weber (2003) describes it as growing particularly in moist grassland and woodland, reed swamps, seashores, riparian habitats, and freshwater and saline wetlands. 

In North America, F. arundinacea invades a variety of environments, including agricultural pasture land, tall grass prairies, forest margins and other moist, disturbed places (USDA-NRCS, 2016). In California it favours sites with heavy soil, including grassland, coastal scrub, roadsides, ditches and other disturbed locations (California Invasive Plant Council, 2016). In Hawaii, it is adventive in pastures and open grasslands at elevations from 820 to 1490 m (Wagner et al., 1999).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial – ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Wetlands Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Salt marshes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

F. arundinacea is an allohexaploid (2n = 6x = 42), but has also been reported with chromosome numbers of 2n = 28 and 70 (Gibson and Newman, 2001). The plant has a gametophytic self-incompatibility system to avoid genetic depression. The species shows large genetic diversity, which is reflected in its tolerance to a wide range of habitats and conditions (Cuyeu et al., 2013).

Reproductive Biology

F. arundinacea can reproduce both sexually and vegetatively, although where it is used as a turf or pasture grass, reproduction is almost wholly vegetative. Its primary method of pollination is by wind (Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, 2008).

Physiology and Phenology

Typical of cool-season grasses, peak growth in tall fescue occurs in spring during the period of reproductive growth, with nearly two-thirds of annual growth occurring at this time. A secondary peak of vegetative growth occurs in autumn.

Associations

F. arundinacea has been shown to be associated with many endophytes, particularly Acremonium coenophialum [Neotyphodium coenophialum] (Siegel et al., 1984; Christensen et al., 1993). Plants infected with the endophyte seem to show higher seed production and an increased level of germination when compared to non-infected individuals (Clay, 1987; Zamani et al., 2015). The development of infected seedlings also seems greater, with increased biomass recorded. The benefit of the endophyte to the plant seems to increase as nutrient availability from the soil increases (Cheplick et al., 1989). A positive relationship between the rate of photosynthesis and endophyte infection has also been shown, with higher rates achieved by infected plants when compared to non-infected plants, especially at increased temperatures (Marks and Clay, 1996).

There are many reported benefits to both the host and the endophyte. Benefits to the fungus include improved dispersal through the plants’ seeds, nutrition, a water source and protection (Malinowski and Belesky, 2000; Spyreas et al., 2001). The host also gains many advantageous properties including protection against herbivory, heat and drought stress tolerance, a lower chance of nematode predation (Kimmons et al., 1990), and an overall increase in vigour (Spyreas et al., 2001). The protection against herbivory which the endophyte offers the host plant can be attributed to alkaloids produced by the endophyte. These alkaloids are known to be toxic to many species of mammal as well as some leaf feeding pest insects (Johnson et al., 1985). They are also the reason for many people’s concern over the grass’s spread. The presence of endophyte-infected strains of F. arundinacea has been show to lead to poor weight gain in cattle (Read and Camp, 1986), as well as adverse effects on milk production and reproduction in horses, cattle and sheep (Stuedemann and Hoveland, 1988).

Environmental Requirements

According to Hannaway et al. (1999), tall fescue is well adapted to humid, temperate areas and is tolerant of warmer southern climates where soil moisture is available. Under heat and drought stress, growth often stops. Tall fescue grows best on deep, moist soils that are heavy to medium in texture and high in organic matter, with pH values between 5.5 and 8.5, although it can tolerate a wide range of soil pH, from strongly acidic (pH 4.7) to alkaline (pH 9.5). With regard to soil moisture, tall fescue can grow under conditions ranging from excessively drained to poorly drained, and can tolerate long periods of flooding (24 to 35 days) when temperatures are below 27°C. A minimum precipitation range is typically 375 to 450 mm, although in areas of high evapotranspiration, up to 900 mm is required for good growth.

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Preferred Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
62 40

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 25
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -5

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall3752000mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral
  • very alkaline

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • saline

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Claviceps purpurea Pathogen Inflorescence/Seeds not specific
Oncopera Herbivore Roots not specific
Puccinia coronata Pathogen Leaves not specific
Pythium Pathogen Seedlings not specific
Rhizoctonia Pathogen Seedlings not specific
Sericesthis Herbivore Roots not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Crown rust (Puccinia coronata) is common on tall fescue during warm moist periods in the growing season. Damping off (Pythium and/or Rhizoctonia) can cause severe seedling loss particularly when germination occurs under cold, damp conditions. Tall fescue can also be infected with ergot (Claviceps purpurea), which affects seed development and is characterized by the presence of purple-black, elongated (up to 5 mm long) ergots in the seed head. Tall fescue plants, particularly endophyte-infected plants, are largely tolerant of pests, although in Australia pasture scarabs (Sericesthis spp.) and Corbie grubs (Oncopera spp.) damage plants by attacking the roots just below the ground (Harris and Lowien, 2003). In the southern USA, nematodes can reduce stands and their persistence by attacking roots, but cause less damage if the endophyte is present (Hannaway et al., 1999). 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

The main natural method of seed dissemination for the grass is through wind dispersal. The seeds germinate rapidly following dispersal, which could account for some of the grass’s success (Gibson and Newman, 2001). The plant also propagates through vegetative means, through the production of rhizoids, although this method does not allow for spread over large distances.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

The awn allows the seed to attach to animal vectors. Seeds can also travel through the digestive system and be successfully dispersed by excretion, as has been shown in horses (Campbell and Gibson, 2001).

Intentional Introduction

The primary method of dispersal for the grass is through intentional introduction. As an important turf and lawn constituent, F. arundinacea seeds can be found in many lawn seed products (USDA-NRCS, 2016).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Crop productionWidely used for fodder and turf Yes Yes USDA-NRCS, 2016
Digestion and excretionSeeds can be transported in animal dung Yes Campbell and Gibson, 2001
Disturbance Yes
ForageGrown for fodder and hay Yes Yes
Habitat restoration and improvementUsed for erosion control Yes Yes Malik et al., 2000
HorticultureWidely sold and used as lawn seed Yes Yes Gibson and Newman, 2001
Ornamental purposesWidely grown as a lawn grass Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
LivestockSeeds attach to animals Yes
Wind Yes Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, 2008

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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The main negative economic impacts of F. arundinacea arise from endophyte infection, when the alkaloids produced by the organism cause fescue toxicosis, a disorder which can cause poor weight gain, low reproductive success and other health issues in livestock. It has been shown that for every 10% increase in endophyte level, there is a reduction in average daily liveweight gain in cattle of 45 g over the entire grazing season (Stuedemann and Hoveland, 1988). Animals with fescue toxicosis have also been noted to have high temperatures, roughened coats and symptoms of ‘fescue foot’ (Read and Camp, 1986); incidents of fescue poisoning often involve the cost of veterinary intervention.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

In its introduced range, F. arundinacea has escaped cultivation and invaded wild areas. It has become an invasive species and noxious weed in native grasslands and habitats throughout North America, including the California coastal prairie plant community (California Invasive Plant Council, 2016) and has encroached on the Clymer Meadow Preserve, a native prairie in northeastern Texas. In the latter case, tall fescue typically spread by establishing in wet or disturbed areas along roads, in eroded patches and in damp hollows. With growth continuing throughout the winter, it was able to shade out native plants. By the early 1990s it covered as much as 40% of the ground in test plots at the Preserve. The species has devastated many other prairie remnants in Texas (Cheater, 1992).

In Australia, F. arundinacea is regarded as a significant environmental weed in Victoria and as an environmental weed in the wider Sydney and Blue Mountains region of New South Wales. In Victoria it is thought to pose a serious threat to one or more vegetation formations. For example, it is listed as a high threat invasive weed in plains swampy eucalypt woodland in the Glenelg Plain and Wimmera bioregions. It is also present on several local and regional environmental weed lists in this state (e.g. in Knox Shire, Banyule Shire and the Goulburn Broken Catchment). In Western Australia it is established on road verges and in disturbed sites from Pemberton to Denmark, and also in Perth, but is regarded as a low priority environmental weed. In South Australia, tall fescue is commonly found in disturbed areas near pastures, but is also becoming a weed of wetter habitats. It is also established in several conservation areas in South Australia (Cudlee Creek Conservation Park, Cobbler Creek Recreation Park and Sturt Gorge Recreation Park) (Queensland Government, 2016).

Impact on Biodiversity

Tall fescue in North America has replaced many hectares of native grasses and does not supply the type of food and cover that many smaller game bird species need in order to thrive. For example, tall fescue only supports a limited number of insects, which are an important food for both quail and turkey (Henson, 2001). After tall fescue plants die, their leaves fall to the ground and create a thick thatch which prevents native plant seeds from germinating (California Invasive Plant Council, 2016). This thatch, which is a thick, impenetrable mat of culms near the soil surface that also forms after mowing or grazing, does not allow enough bare ground for some seed-eating birds to obtain adequate food. Additionally, tall fescue has been shown to inhibit seed germination in other plant species through allelopathy (Barnes et al., 1995; Henson, 2001). 

The presence of F. arundinacea has been linked with a reduction in biodiversity (Spyreas et al., 2001), and in forest situations has even suppressed the natural succession process by reducing tree abundance and size (Rudgers et al., 2007). The presence of the endophyte-infected grass, which is toxic to some herbivores, increases feeding on tree saplings, again altering normal succession processes. It is now recognized that the presence of the endophyte contributes to both the tough nature of the grass and the poor performance of grazing animals in the warmer months. Endophyte infection has been deleterious to wildlife as well, reducing the biological diversity of soil organisms, insects, native plants, birds and mammals. Endophyte-infected tall fescue inhibits many soil organisms, including pathogenic fungi, parasitic nematodes and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. The fescue endophyte produces loline alkaloids that are toxic to at least twenty insect species. The endophyte also produces ergot alkaloids that are toxic to mammals, including domestic livestock. Grasslands dominated by endophyte-infected tall fescue support less total herbivore biomass, which in turn supports less predator biomass (Henson, 2001).

A 7.5 to 9 m-wide border composed of either native grasses or native grasses and legumes around tall fescue pastures can moderate the harmful effect of tall fescue on wildlife. A border supplies some food and cover for small game and birds, and is particularly effective when the pasture is adjacent to a well-managed forest (Henson, 2001).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Allelopathic
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Poisoning
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant

Uses

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Economic Value

Tall fescue is widely used as a reliable hay, silage and pasture grass for feeding livestock (Strahan et al., 1987) due to its resilience and vigour compared to other grass species (Hill et al., 1990). Since the early 1970s, tall fescue has been the predominant cool-season perennial grass grown in the USA, occupying around 14 million hectares (Hannaway et al., 1999). Because of its importance as a pasture grass, many cultivars of the species are available, the most common of which is Kentucky-31 (Schmidt et al., 1982).

Social Benefit

Turf-type F. arundinacea cultivars selected for short stature and narrow leaf blades are widely grown as very hardy, dense, wear-resistant turf in lawns, parks, golf course roughs and other areas which are mowed at a height of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) or more; it does not tolerate mowing heights lower than this in summer (Lawn UK, 2014; Duble, 2016).

Environmental Services

Tall fescue has been planted for erosion control; however it has been shown to have similar, or even lesser, effectiveness in this regard than other grass species (Malik et al., 2000).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage

Environmental

  • Amenity
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Soil conservation

General

  • Ornamental

Materials

  • Poisonous to mammals

Ornamental

  • garden plant

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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As a species of grass, F. arundinacea is morphologically similar to other grass species, especially other members of the same genus. In particular, tall fescue is very similar in appearance to meadow fescue (F. pratensis). However, tall fescue has 4-5 lemmas per spikelet and its lemmas are 7-10 mm in length. In contrast, meadow fescue has 5-11 lemmas per spikelet and its lemmas are 6-8 mm in length (Hilty, 2016).

Prevention and Control

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Eradication

Eradication of tall fescue greatly improves the opportunity to provide diverse grasslands capable of supporting more robust and healthier wildlife populations. The two methods most frequently used are herbicide application and/or conventional tillage. In choosing a method, consideration should be given to the availability of equipment, potential for soil erosion, the type of vegetation to be re-seeded, and cost.

Tall fescue is very difficult to completely eradicate. It is not always practical or necessary to eliminate all fescue plants. Rather, the goal should be to keep most growth suppressed so that other more beneficial and diverse vegetation types can become available to support the needs of wildlife. Once a site has been renovated, frequent mowing, deep tillage and autumn burning should be avoided as these practices will accelerate tall fescue reinfestation (Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife, 2006).

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Although tall fescue is difficult to eradicate without using herbicides, conventional tillage can be used for growth suppression. It is best adapted for use on non-erosive sites. The most effective method is to plough the sod in the autumn and allow the fescue rhizomes to remain exposed to freezing conditions throughout the winter months. As soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, the site should be disked down and allowed to green-up with whatever germinates. Further disking then kills off the vegetation; only the top 5-7.5 cm of the soil should be disturbed as deeper disking will only bring more fescue seed up into the germination zone. The field should be allowed to green-up again before another pass of shallow disking prior to reseeding (Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife, 2006).

Chemical Control

Herbicides can be used for tall fescue eradication usually on any site, but are strongly recommended for use on highly erosive soils and slopes where soil disturbance may cause or exacerbate erosion problems. Another advantage is that only one pass with spraying equipment is needed in most situations. Best results are obtained by spraying when fescue plants are actively growing and are approximately 15-30 cm in height; prior to herbicide treatment, the fescue should be mowed, grazed or burned and allowed to regrow to that height. This will reduce the amount of non-target residue (dead, leafy material) and ensure the maximum exposure of new growth to herbicide contact. For sites scheduled to be reseeded to a cool-season grass/legume mixture, two applications of glyphosate are recommended (autumn and spring), while for sites to be reseeded to a warm-season grass/forb mixture, glyphosate or an imidazole herbicide such as imazapic alone or in combination can be used (Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife, 2006).

Ecosystem Restoration

According to Barnes (2004), an effective way of increasing or re-establishing the biodiversity of an area is to remove the tall fescue population by burning it and then reseeding soon after. Another method of is to apply herbicides after burning (Washburn et al., 2000). 

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Much of the literature is focused on problems encountered in North America, so research into F. arundinacea on a more global scale may be required in order to fully assess the risks of the grass’s use. 

References

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Contributors

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03/02/2016    Original text by:

Georgina Watling, CABI, UK

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