Tall Fescue

Festuca arundinacea Schreber

Synonyms - Festuca elatior, Festuca fenas, Festuca orientalis.

Family: - Poaceae.


Festuca is from the Latin words meaning a weed of barley.

Tall Fescue

Other names:

Alta Fescue

Reed Fescue

Tall Meadow Fescue.


A coarse, tall, hairless, perennial tussocky grass to 2 m high with flat leaves that have a rough waxy cuticle at the top. It has paired branches in the purplish, nodding, open seed head that is 5-45 cm long.





Emerging leaves rolled in the bud..


Blade - Dark green, flat, 100-750 mm long by 3-12 mm wide, strap like, tapering, finely ribbed on the upper surface, shiny on the lower surface. Rough on the edges and upper surface when rubbed towards the base. Erect when growth is short, becoming lax as they elongate. Hairless but often has a few hairs near the collar.

Ligule - Very short, membranous. Flat top.

Auricles - Encircle the stem. Has tiny hairs.

Collar - prominent and usually a lighter colour.

Sheath - Long, rolled. Hairless.


Erect, stout, coarse, tufted, up to 1200 mm tall, often spreading, unbranched below the seed head. Sometimes bent at the lower nodes. Hairless. Rhizomes. May form large clumps.

Flower head:

Green- purple, loose or contracted, erect or nodding panicle, 50-450 mm long, lance shaped in outline. Branches in pairs and different lengths with 3-15 spikelets. Hairless.


Spikelets - 8-18 mm long, 4-10 flowered, flattened. Often on a short stalk. Often purplish.

Florets -

Glumes - First one 4-6 mm long, 1 veined.

Second one 5-7 mm long, 3 veined, keeled, persistent. Shorter than floret.

Palea -

Lemma - Stiff, 5-9 mm long, 5 veined. Short awn or point, 0.5-4 mm long near the tip.

Stamens -

Anthers -

Breaks above the glumes and between the florets.



Pale, may have a short awn at the tip. 5-7 mm long by 1-2 mm wide. Ragged flat tip. Bunt base. (Looks like ryegrass seed)


Fibrous. Deep under ground rhizomes. Many varieties have and association with and endophytic fungus which increases drought tolerance and nitrogen utilisation.

Key Characters:


Life cycle:

Perennial. Seeds germinate from autumn to spring. Cultivars differ in their main growth period. They tend to be either winter productive and summer dormant or vice versa. Flowering mainly in summer.



By seed and rhizomes.

Flowering times:

Mainly in January in SA.

Flowers in summer in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:

Deep underground rhizomes.


There are many cultivars. Demeter prefers summer moist and mild areas. Melik has a more upright growth habit, narrower leaves, smaller crowns, paler green leaves, is summer dormant, flood and drought tolerant.


An association with an endophytic fungi probably makes it allelopathic.

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Some varieties have an association with an endophytic fungus improves its drought tolerance, nitrogen utilisation and probably increases its allelopathy making it more competitive with other species.

Origin and History:

Native to Europe, temperate Asia and North Africa.

Introduced as a pasture grass and has become naturalised.







Abundant on poorly drained, boggy, infertile soils.

Plant Associations:



Fodder. Cultivated pasture grass that has naturalised.

Planted for erosion control, as a pasture grass and as a drought tolerant turf.


Weed of grass land, roadsides and disturbed areas.

Environmental weed of the USA.


Toxic due to associated endophytic fungus. This fungus probably produces a toxin that affects both surrounding plants and herbivores.

Causes "Fescue foot" in calves. Unaccustomed cattle exposed to dense green infestations in winter appear to be most susceptible.


Loss of weight, lameness and jerkiness in the hindquarters, dry gangrene of the feet and tail, sloughing of the hoof, death. Left hind foot is usually the first affected and rarely on the front feet. Symptoms may appear from 3 days to 6 months after grazing Tall Fescue.

Almost identical symptoms to the ergot fungus.

Sheep are rarely affected.


Remove cattle from infested pastures, lameness usually disappears in 7-10 days. Provide alternate feed. Don't graze infested pastures for more than a week at a time.

Maintain a vigorous legume component in the pasture.



Management and Control:

Grazing and/or annual burning when the Fescue is in flower (and root reserves are low) usually provides reasonable control.

In cropping areas, Tall Fescue can usually be reduced to insignificant levels by using glyphosate for spray topping, summer weed control and pre plant weed control.

A typical program would be heavy autumn grazing followed by heavy grazing in late winter to spring with stock being removed when the annual grasses start to elongate in spring. When the heads of annual grasses just start to emerge Spraytop with 800 mL/ha glyphosate(450g/L) followed by 800 mL/ha 4 weeks later. If summer weeds emerge then spray with glyphosate at a rate appropriate for the weeds. In autumn spray annual weeds when they have reached the 2 leaf stage with about 2 L/ha glyphosate(450g/L). Rates should be adjusted so that a total of 3-4 L/ha glyphosate is applied over the 2-4 sprays. This will give results similar to applying 6 L/ha as a single application. Cultivation, 2-10 days after spraying with a scarifier or using a tyned full cut seeder to plant the crop will provide improved control compared to minimum tillage planting.


Eradication strategies:

Graze continuously and heavily.

Spray with glyphosate, preferably before flowering and repeat each 6-8 weeks if new growth appears.


Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Graceful Fescue (Festuca asperula)

Snow Fescue (Festuca eriopoda)

Hooker's Fescue (Festuca hookeriana)

Coast Fescue (Festuca littoralis)

Chewing's Fescue (Festuca nigrescens)

Meadow Fescue (Festuca pratensis)

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)

Plants of similar appearance:

Perennial grasses.


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Ciba Geigy (1981) Grass Weeds 2. CIBA GEIGY Ltd, Basle, Switzerland. P80. Diagrams.

Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney). P320.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P54-55. Photo.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #547.1.

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Paterson, J.G. (1977). Grasses in South Western Australia. (Western Australian Department of Agriculture Bulletin 4007). P52. Diagram.

Randall, J.M. and Marinelli, J. (1996) Invasive Plants. (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Inc. Brooklyn) P87.


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