Festuca of North America


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

Festuca pratensis Huds.



Fl. Angl.: 37. 1762. F. fluitans var. pratensis (Huds.) Huds. Fl. Angl. Ed. 2: 47. 1778. Schedonorus pratensis (Huds.) P. Beauv. Ess. Agrostogr.: 99, 163, 177. 1812. Bromus pratensis (Huds.) Spreng., Syst. veg. 1: 359. 1825, non Lam. Encycl. 1: 468. 1785. Lolium festuca Raspail ex Mutel, Fl. franç. 4: 111. 1837, pro syn. Bucetum pratense (Huds.) Parn., Grasses Scotland: 105, pl. 46. 1842. F. elatior var. pratensis (Huds.) A. Gray, Manual Ed. 5: 634. 1867. F. elatior subsp. pratensis (Huds.) Hack. Bot. Centralbl. 8: 407. 1881. Tragus pratensis (Huds.) Panz. ex B. D. Jacks., Index Kew. 2: 1099. 1895, nom. illeg. Lectotype: Herb. Sloane 125.16. (Reveal et al. 1991). Lolium pratense (Huds.) Darbysh., Novon 3: 242. 1993. Type: England in pratis et pascuis.

Habit. Plants deep green, 30–130 cm high (often with decumbent stem bases), not densely tufted, tiller bases not stiffly erect (usually, but culms erect above a geniculate base), bases purplish or not purplish, horizontal rooting stems present or absent. Vegetative shoots arising outside, or breaking through the base of existing sheaths.

Vegetative morphology. Sheaths glabrous, not conspicuous at the base of the plant, splitting between the veins, open more than half their length. Collars glabrous. Auricles present, claw-like (0.7–1.1 mm long, conspicuously smooth and without trichomes). Auricular cilia absent. Ligules 0.2–0.5 mm long, ciliate. Leaf blades 10–25 cm long, more or less lax. Adaxial blade surfaces glabrous or with trichomes, abaxial blade surfaces glabrous or with trichomes. Leaf blades flat (or loosely rolled), 2–7 mm wide (leaves not very rigid, more or less smooth on the upper surface with sclerenchyma strands predominantly toward the adaxial surface). Veins 18–25. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands present. Uppermost culm leaf sheaths not inflated. Flag leaf blades 5–15 cm long. Culm nodes becoming exposed, 2–4; internodes glabrous.

Floral morphology. Inflorescence (6–)10–25 cm long. Inflorescence branches at the lowest node 2 (usually, rarely 1, the longer branch with 4–6 spikelets, the shorter branch with 1–3 spikelets; the internodes of the branches less than twice as long as the spikelets), appressed after anthesis (nodding at the tip), (3.5–)4–6.5 cm long. Rachis angular in cross section, trichomes mainly on the ridges. Spikelets aggregated towards the ends of the branches; 1–6 on the longest branches; (8.5–)12–15.5(–17) mm long, 2–5 mm wide. Proliferating spikelets absent (usually, occurring occasionally). Florets (2–)4–10(–12). Glumes unequal, glabrous or with trichomes, vestiture at the apex only or over most of the outer surface, margins not ciliate. First glume (2–)2.6–4(–4.5) mm long, veins 1–2. Second glume shorter than the first lemma, (3–)3.5–5 mm long, veins 3. Rachilla internodes glabrous, or nearly so. Lemma callus not elongated. Lemma (5–)6–8 mm long, nerveless in dorsal view or sometimes with only the centre vein distinct, glabrous or with trichomes, trichomes on the upper portion only or over the entire surface (veins not reaching to the apex); apex entire (hyaline, acute, rarely awn-tipped). Lemma awn 0–2 mm long. Palea 6–7 mm long, glabrous between the keels. Lodicules with marginal teeth, glabrous, 0.9–1.2 mm long. Anthers (0.5–)2–4.6 mm long. Ovary apex glabrous. Caryopsis 3–3.5 mm long.

Cytology. 2n = 14, 28, 42, 70.

Habitat and Distribution. Introduced; cultivated crop; meadows. We have not seen records of this species occurring in Ala, Ark., Del., Fla., Ga., Ky., La., Miss., N.C., Nebr., N.J., Ohio, Okla, R.I., Tenn., or Tex. but strongly suspect that it was been planted in most of the northern states. In many situations it appears to have been the grass of choice used by early settlers and to have been replaced by F. arundinacea in plantings at least since the mid twentieth century. Greenland; Canada: Nfld., NS, P.E.I., NB, Que., Ont., Man., Sask., Alta., B.C., Yukon; Northwestern USA: Oreg., Wash.; Southwestern USA: Ariz., Calif., Nev.; Rocky Mountains USA: Colo., Idaho, Mont., Utah, Wyo.; North Central USA: Iowa, Ill., Kansas, Minn., Mo., Nebr., N. Dak., Okla. (?), S. Dak., Wis.; South Central USA: N. Mex., Tex.; Northeastern USA: Conn., Ind., Mass., Maine, Mich., N.H., N.J., N.Y., Ohio (?), Pa., R.I. (?), Vt.; Southeastern USA: Ala. (?), Ark., Del. (?), Fla. (?), Ga. (?), Ky. (?), La. (?), Md., Miss (?), N.C. (?), S.C., Tenn. (?), Va.

Classification. Subg. Schedonorus (Beauv.) Peterm.


Darbyshire (1993) transferred this species to the genus Lolium which was evaluated in Aiken et al. (1997).

Meadow fescue was once popular as a forage in North America but it is cultivated less frequently. It may be found growing in abandoned pastures in the Ottawa, Ontario area. It is not as productive or persistent as tall fescue which has been much more widely planted this century. The distribution of Meadow fescue is restricted by its moisture requirement and like tall fescue it is not grown without irrigation in the mid-west.


• Plant at anthesis. Plant of F. pratensis at anthesis, showing inflorescences with few branches and few spikelets per branch. At anthesis the branches spread open but remain at acute angles to the rachis. • Line drawing. Illustration from Scribner (1898) as F. elatior pratensis. MEADOW FESCUE. The notes accompanying the description state, "In fields and waysides, introduced, Nova Scotia, to North Carolina, west to Washington, Oregon and Kansas". In 1898, this species was more common than REED FESCUE, while in 1996 it is less so. • Contrasting auricle characters of F. arundinacea and F. pratensis. Contrasting auricle characters of F. arundinacea and F. pratensis. Left, F. pratensis, auricles are glabrous. Right, F. arundinacea, auricles are ciliate. • Close up of base of inflorescence at anthesis. A close up of the base of the inflorescence of F. pratensis at anthesis, showing the lowest node with a single spikelet (left) and a short branch that in this case has two spikelets. • Contrast of inflorescences at anthesis. Contrast of inflorescences at anthesis. Left, inflorescence of F. pratensis showing the lowest node with a single spikelet and a short branch that may have 2–4 spikelets. Right, inflorescence of F. arundinacea showing the lowest node having two branches, each with several spikelets. • Contrast of inflorescences after anthesis. Contrast of inflorescences after anthesis. Left, an inflorescence of F. pratensis showing appressed branches at the lowest node. There is a single spikelet right of the main rachis and a longer branch with 3–4 spikelets to the left. Right, an inflorescence of F. arundinacea. The branches are not appressed after anthesis, and the way that a pair of branches is borne towards one side of the rachis is characteristic. • Post-anthesis inflorescence. A post-anthesis inflorescence of F. pratensis showing the lowest node with a single spikelet (right) and a short branch that in this case has 4 spikelets (appressed left). The flag leaf is close to the base of the inflorescence and almost at right angles to it.

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).