Festuca of North America


S. G. Aiken, M. J. Dallwitz, C. L. McJannet, and L. L. Consaul

Festuca filiformis Pourr.



Mém. Acad. Roy. Sci. Toulouse 3: 319 (6, no. 493). 1788. Type: France: Aude, Narbonne, la Clape, Pourret s.n.

F. capillata Lam. Fl. Fr. 3: 597. 1778. nom. illeg. (Voss 1972). F. ovina var. capillata (Lam.) Alef., Landw. Fl.: 354. 1866.

F. tenuifolia Sibth., Fl. Oxon.: 44. 1794. F. ovina var. tenuifolia (Sibth.) Roem. & Schult., Syst. Veg. 2: 714. 1817.

Habit. Plants bluish gray green or deep green, 18–40(–55) cm high, densely tufted, tiller bases stiffly erect, bases purplish, horizontal rooting stems absent. Vegetative shoots arising from within existing sheaths.

Vegetative morphology. Sheaths glabrous or glabrescent, conspicuous at the base of the plant, persisting for more than 1 year, remaining entire, not conspicuously splitting between the veins, open more than half their length. Collars glabrous. Auricles represented by distinct, erect, swellings. Auricular cilia absent. Ligules 0.15–0.3 mm long, ciliate. Leaf blades (5–)11–23(–30) cm long, erect, stiffish (wiry and conspicuously fine). Adaxial blade surfaces with trichomes, abaxial blade surfaces with trichomes (scabrous at least towards the tip). Leaf blades plicate; 0.2–0.31–0.4(–0.6) mm wide, 0.3–0.47–0.6 mm deep. Veins 3–7. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma well developed, in broad bands or continuous (forming a complete, usually narrow ring). Ribs 1 (well defined). Uppermost culm leaf sheaths not inflated. Flag leaf blades 0.5–5 cm long. Culm nodes becoming exposed, 1; internodes scabrous-hirsute (usually strongly scabrous to puberulent).

Floral morphology. Inflorescence 1–4(–8) cm long. Inflorescence branches at the lowest node 2, appressed after anthesis, 0.5–1.5(–2) cm long. Rachis angular in cross section, trichomes over the entire surface. Spikelets 2–6 on the longest branches; 3–6(–6.5) mm long, 1.5–2.5 mm wide. Proliferating spikelets absent (among North American records; they have been observed on plants growing in Europe, Markgraf-Dannenberg, 1980). Florets 2–6. Glumes unequal, glabrous or with trichomes, margins ciliate. First glume 1–2.5 mm long, veins 1. Second glume shorter than the first lemma, 1.7–2.3(–3.9) mm long, veins 3. Rachilla internodes antrorsely scabrous. Lemma callus not elongated. Lemma 2.3–4(–4.4) mm long, nerveless in dorsal view or sometimes with only the centre vein distinct, with trichomes, trichomes on the upper portion only; apex entire (very short) or apically cleft. Lemma awn 0–0.4 mm long. Palea 2.3–3.7(–4) mm long, distinctly pubescent between the keels (at the apex only). Lodicules with marginal teeth, glabrous, 0.4–0.6 mm long. Anthers 1.5–2.2 mm long. Ovary apex glabrous. Caryopsis 1.5–2 mm long.

Cytology. 2n = 14, 28.

Habitat and Distribution. Introduced (to a limited extent); naturalized and grown experimentally, but not extensively. Canada: Nfld., NS, P.E.I., NB, Que., Ont., B.C.; Northwestern USA: Oreg. (?), Wash.; Rocky Mountains USA: Mont.; North Central USA: Ill. (?), Minn. (?), Wis.; Northeastern USA: Conn., Ind., Mass., Maine, Mich., N.H., N.J. (?), N.Y. (?), Ohio (?), Pa., R.I. (?), Vt. (?); Southeastern USA: Md., Miss, N.C., S.C. (?), Tenn. (?), Va.

Classification. Subg. Festuca L.


Festuca filiformis is a European introduction in North America, which is sometimes sold under the name "ovina" or "sheep fescue". The occurrence of the species in Eastern Canada was discussed in Aiken and Darbyshire (1990). It was observed to be planted extensively beside roads in Nova Scotia (Aiken and Consaul, observations 1992). Occasional herbarium specimens indicate that F. filiformis has been introduced to Western North America, but the extent is not known. Festuca filiformis and F. trachyphylla (Hack.) Krajina are available in "blue" glaucous forms sold under the trade name "glauca". Festuca plants labelled "glauca" in ornamental gardens may be either species, but in western North America they are more usually F. trachyphylla.


• Plants growing along roadside. Photograph of F. filiformis plants growing along the roadside in Nova Scotia. • Colour forms. Plants of F. filiformis growing under the name F. ovina glauca in the Plantations Gardens, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. The name "glauca" refers to the waxy blue colour of the leaves. In Eastern North America, ornamental plants of F. ovina glauca are often F. filiformis; in Western North America, they are more likely blue colour forms of F. trachyphylla. • Line drawing. An illustration of F. filiformis from Scribner (1901) as F. ovina, SHEEP'S FESCUE. The notes accompanying the plate confirm the identification of this drawing as illustrating F. filiformis. • Leaf anatomy. Leaf cross section of F. filiformis. Leaf blades are 0.2–0.31–0.4(-0.6) mm wide and 0.3–0.47–0.6 mm deep, with 3–7 veins. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands are absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma strands are well developed, in broad bands or continuous, forming a complete, usually narrow ring. There is one rib, that is well defined.

The interactive key provides access to the character list, illustrations, full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting specified attributes, and summaries of attributes within groups of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., McJannet, C.L. and Consaul, L.L. 1996 onwards. Festuca of North America: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. Version: 19th October 2005. http://delta-intkey.com’. Aiken, Dallwitz, McJannet, and Consaul (1997) should also be cited (see References).