Festuca of North America


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

Festuca ‘Chewings’


The grass cultivar CHEWINGS FESCUE, latin name and status uncertain.

Habit. Plants deep green (or yellowish green when nitrogen in the substrate is limited. Plants slender to relatively stout; Markgraf-Dannenberg 1980), (20–)60–120 cm high, densely tufted, tiller bases stiffly erect (or slightly bent at the base), bases purplish or not purplish, horizontal rooting stems absent. Vegetative shoots arising from within existing sheaths, or arising outside, or breaking through the base of existing sheaths (and growing close to the outside of the old leaf sheaths).

Vegetative morphology. Sheaths glabrous or with trichomes (retrorse), not conspicuous at the base of the plant, splitting between the veins, closed more than half their length. Collars glabrous. Auricles absent. Ligules 0.1–0.3 mm long, ciliate. Leaf blades (5–)10–30 cm long, erect, stiffish (slightly pointed). Adaxial blade surfaces with trichomes, abaxial blade surfaces glabrous or with trichomes (near the tip). Leaf blades plicate; 0.3–0.7(–1) mm wide, 0.5–1 mm deep. Veins 5–7. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma poorly developed, in discrete, relatively narrow strands opposite the veins. Ribs 5–6. Uppermost culm leaf sheaths not inflated. Flag leaf blades 4.5–11 cm long. Culm nodes becoming exposed, 1–3; internodes glabrous.

Floral morphology. Inflorescence (3–)5–15 cm long (purplish, reddish green, or yellowish, usually contracted after flowering, but sometimes the lowest branches remain loosely open). Inflorescence branches at the lowest node 1–2, appressed after anthesis (in the upper part of the inflorescence, the branches at the lowest node remain spreading; observation by B.L. Wilson in Oregon), 2.5–9 cm long. Rachis angular in cross section, trichomes over the entire surface. Spikelets evenly distributed along the branches; 5–15 on the longest branches; (6–)7–12 mm long, 2.5–3.5 mm wide. Proliferating spikelets absent. Florets (3–)5–8. First glumes present. Glumes unequal, with trichomes, vestiture at the apex only, margins ciliate. First glume (2–)3.2–4.5 mm long, veins 1. Second glume shorter than the first lemma, (3–)4.2–5.2 mm long, veins 3. Rachilla internodes 0.7–1 mm long, antrorsely scabrous. Lemma callus not elongated. Lemma 4.6–6.2 mm long, nerveless in dorsal view or sometimes with only the centre vein distinct, glabrous (usually) or with trichomes, trichomes on the upper portion only; apex entire. Lemma awn present. Lemma awn 1–3 mm long. Palea 4–6 mm long, distinctly pubescent between the keels. Lodicules with marginal teeth. Anthers 2.8–4 mm long. Ovary apex glabrous.

Cytology. 2n = 42.

Habitat and Distribution. Introduced; cultivated crop (in Oregon and Alberta, Peace River District); meadows. Possibly widespread. Canada: Alta.; Northwestern USA: Oreg.

Classification. Subg. Festuca L.


The data given here are based on information obtained from a group of commercial cultivars sold under the names: atlanta, capital, cascade, countess, enjoy, illahe, jamestown, longfellow, melinda, and trophy, obtained from International Seeds, Halsey, Oregon and sent in by B. L. Wilson, University of Oregon (specimens at DAO). How this commercial cultivar group received the latin name F. rubra var. commutata is not known. (F. rubra var. commutata Gaud. Fl. Helv. 1: 287. 1828. Type: Switzerland: "Hab. inter gramina dense caespitosa et loci humidisculis". =F. nigrescens Lam. Encycl. Méth. Bot. 2: 460. 1788.)

The taxon described here is believed to have been selected from a planting of hard fescue in the South Island of New Zealand that has been developed as a grass cultivar group. It has been successfully crossed with creeping red fescues (as defined by Duyvendak et al. 1981) in grass varietal trials at Grasslands, Palmerston North, New Zealand (M.B. Forde, personal communication 1984).

Among files belonging to the late Margot Forde (Margot Forde Germplasm Centre, New Zealand) was the following information which appears to have been the basis of a talk given in New Zealand by Guy P. Chewings, the son of George Chewings, from whom the common name was derived. It contains the following:

"I have been asked to tell you the history of Chewings fescue and perhaps I had better start by telling you what it is.

Chewings fescue is a type of grass that is used all over the world for laying down lawns, aerodromes, and playing areas of all descriptions, wherever a tough, springy surface is required. It has the properties of being able to stand up to unlimited punishment (by way of treading on), drought, or wet, such as no other grass has, and it is this wonderful property which makes it so popular.

Now for its history; I want you to come back with me to the very early eighties of last century (1800's), and we will call on one of the earliest seedsmen that Invercargill (South Island, New Zealand) had – the late Robert Cleave. The seed business was in the hands of nurserymen and R. Cleave had one of the biggest businesses of this kind in Australasia. Of the seed firms, as we know them today, there were only two in existence – The National Mortgage & Agency Co. and the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. Their seed business was negligible. Amongst other lawn grass seeds which Mr. Cleave had imported from Hurst & Son, Houndsditch, London, was a small parcel of what was known as "hard fescue". At this time there called on Mr. Cleave, a Mrs. McIntyre, who had a farm in the Morton Mains district; she was greatly trouble by her cows cutting up the house paddock and appealed to Mr. Cleave to help her out of her difficulty, if possible, by recommending a grass that would stand up to the hard usage caused by the cows walking through it daily in the winter time. He recommended trying out some of this hard fescue. This she did, evidently with success, and two years later asked Mr. Cleave if he would buy the seed off her paddock if she harvested it. This he promised to do, and in due course the seed arrived. Now, having his season's requirement on hand, by the way of importation, this extra quantity from Mrs. McIntyre presented somewhat of a problem to Mr. Cleave.

It happened at this particular time (probably about 1885) that there entered Mr. Cleave's shop, a person of the name of William Tatham Tarlton, who had recently come from "Glenelg" South Australia and had taken up 2000 areas of land in the Mossburn district. This man was enquiring for a grass suitable for sowing on hard, stony ground, of which he had plenty on his newly acquired farm, which be it noted, he had called "Glenelg" after his birthplace.

Here was an opportunity not to be missed by Mr. Cleave and he recommended Tarlton to try the hard fescue, which Mrs McIntyre had grown. This he did and sowed out a piece of "Glenelg" with hard fescue.

Now let us leave this fescue growing and take a look round "Glenelg" in October 1887 and we find on it a visitor who was destined to have his name known throughout the world wherever a playing area is laid down in grass. I refer to my father, the late George Chewings, who at that time was on a health recruiting trip to his friend in New Zealand (he also being a native of "Glenelg", South Australia). As father wanted a change of climate and Tarlton wished to go back to South Australia, a deal was struck, whereby an exchange of properties took place and father left for the other "Glenelg" to collect mother and my two sisters; they duly arrived at "Glenelg", Mossburn, New Zealand, on December 26th 1887 and now we will return to the hard fescue which we left growing on Tarlton's property.

On father's first inspection of the property, which he had just taken possession of, under the guidance of a man named Patterson, whom Tarlton had left in charge, he saw in one of the paddocks a section of grass which evidently displeased him and his remarks to Patterson were:–

"That is wiry looking grass, it will be no good for sheep feed, I will get rid of it as soon as I can."

"It may not be much use for grazing, but I believe the seed is saleable", replied Patterson.

"Oh, well, I will try it out", replied father, and the results of that conversation I will endeavour to tell you.

And here let me acknowledge my deepest thanks to Mr. Geo. T. Stevens of Messrs. J. E. Watson & Co. Mr. Stevens holds a unique position in the history of "Chewings fescue" as he was the first man ever to dress Chewings fescue seed on commercial lines and was one of the first men instrumental in introducing it to other parts of the world – but more of that later – and also my thanks to Mr. J. M. Wilson of Mess. S. Wright, Stephenson & Co., who have made available to me his firm's records, from which I have derived much information.

Now let us return to "Glenelg" about January 1888 and we find a man named Michael Gallagher – employee of "Glenelg" – cutting with a scythe and threshing with the "Irish combine", as the flail was called, the first fescue that was ever harvested in the Mossburn district. This same Michael Gallagher was destined later on to purchase a property adjoining "Glenelg" and still later a part of "Glenelg" itself, and became one of the larger growers of Chewings fescue.

This hand harvested seed was sown on "Glenelg" and the results of this threshing evidently being satisfactory, father next year cut sufficient ground to give him 85 sacks of seed which were sent down to Mr. Cleave to be dressed – here Mr. Steven's connection with fescue comes in and I cannot do better than to quote from his interesting letter:–

"I cleaned this and it was sold as hard fescue by Mr. Cleave. The next year your father sent down 240 sacks. This was just rather a big hurdle to dispose of locally, but it so happened that Mr. Cleave advised your father to take a trip to Rotorua for his health. While at Rotorua your father met many land owners in the North Island and he impressed upon them the value of his fescue for their pumice lands and recommenced them to get in touch with Mr. Cleave. At Cleave's we shortly began to receive telegrams from North Island land owners asking for the price of "Chewings fescue", the Mr. being left out to save expense. This is really how the seed got its present name; your father up to that time being the only grower."

Here, may I mention the fact that for years it was quoted as "N.Z. Hard" or "Chewings fescue", then "Chewings fescue" and now all communications are simply "Chewings".

The following year father sent in to Mr. Cleaves 440 sacks and a neighbour, the late Mr. Allen Browning, who had started growing fescue, also sent in 200 sacks. These being more than Cleave could dispose of, they were taken over by Messrs. Tothill, Watson & Co. (now Messrs. J. E. Watson & Co.), to which firm Mr. Stevens had transferred as seedsman and they exported it in Britain, U.S.A., and South Africa through the firm of Sutton & Sons, for whom they were New Zealand agents. The results, as far as South Africa was concerned, were negative. And from these small beginnings has been built up a trade that has grown to very large proportions and today it can absorb into the vicinity of about 1000 tons annually (but this would seem to be the limit).

I have time to tell you a few interesting facts in regard to this unique grass. For many years the germination, which is so important in all seeds, was very unsatisfactory when the seed arrived at its destination on the other side of the world and after years of experimenting, a solution to this problem has been found in drying the seed. That it was a problem to be got over may be judged by the fact that seed of 95% germination in New Zealand would have dropped to 75% on arrival in the Northern Hemisphere and would continue to drop rapidly.

The world famed Wimbledon Tennis Courts, which are considered to be the best in the world, were sown down entirely with "Chewings fescue" imported from New Zealand and supplied by a local firm.

The cricket pitches at Lords (also of world fame) are returfed when necessary with turf grown entirely from New Zealand Chewings fescue. It may be of interest to you to know that there are firms in England who grow and sell turf by the roll – much as you would buy a roll of carpet: they have a special machine for cutting and rolling the turf and you can understand that only a grass of superior turf qualities would be used.

A question you will be asking is:– "If it is only used for playing areas, etc. how can such an enormous amount of seed be absorbed every year?" Standard sowings for seed purposes equal 20 lbs per acre, therefore 1000 tons would sow 112,000 acres. In sowing down these areas up to 300 lbs of seed per acre are used and when I tell you that, within a radius of 20 miles of New York, there are 20 golf courses alone, you can understand where the seed goes to.

Now you will want to know how many fortunes have been made by the growers of "Chewings fescue". I can tell you that too – NONE. It is true that there have been some big "rises" made from time to time by some of the growers, but the average price over a series of years does not work out on a high level and when the costs of preparation (which are heavy, as the ground must be perfectly clean for success) and the fact that it is a "two year's crop" are taken into consideration, the returns are not large. By a "two year's crop" I mean that it takes two years to come to maturity and can only be cut every second year after that and then only after necessary preparation, but I have not time to go into that tonight. May I quote one instance that comes to my mind. A farmer threshed 8 bags per acre, a very high yield, but for four years he was preparing for it. His returns over four years were 2 bags. Statistics show that over a period of years, the average yield for the Mossburn and Five Rivers districts works out about 3 bags per acre of the ground cut, or, on a yearly basis 1.5 bags per acre.

I have had a difference of opinion with representatives of Sutton & Sons, who claim that they exported the original seed from England to New Zealand. They did not come into the fescue business until they were handling seed on behalf of Tothil, Watson & Co. – later J.E. Watson & Co." Guy P. Chewings.

Hubbard (1967) commented, "This slender-leaved fescue is now widely distributed in the British Isles owing to its seeds being sown for the formation of lawns. In a natural state it has been recorded from many English counties, particularly in the south, where it occurs on well-drained chalky, gravelly, or sandy soils, in open grassland, on road verges, railway banks, as well as on waste ground. Also in most parts of Europe; introduced into N. America, New Zealand etc. ....The name 'Chewings Fescue' is from a Mr Chewings who first sold its seed in New Zealand, whence many hundreds of tons were at one time exported annually to the United Kingdom. Most seed is now imported from the United States and the Continent."

A translation of a paper by Lindenbein (1966) contains the following, "another sod-forming grass which in more recent times has been increasingly imported from America, is Chewings Fescue. According to American nomenclature, this is F. rubra commutata Gaud. There is no doubt that this name is a synonym of F. rubra var. fallax Thuill. In German usage this would be the "Horstbildende Rostschwingel" or the "Täuschende" Schwingel". Hackel, the classical monographer of the genus Festuca, did not acknowledge this plant as a separate species, but classified it as a mere variety of red fescue.

Recently, another author, Patzke (1964), studied this species. Although he admits that "in spite of all the difficulties, Hackel (1882) had distinguished correctly, a fact which underlines his extraordinary skill and knowledge", he maintains that this plant represents a species. He also considered the name F. fallax Thuill. (1799) "somewhat questionable", wherefore he suggested the older name F. nigrescens Lam. (1789). If the name F. fallax Thuill. were used, the alpine race would have to be regarded as a separate species.

Patzke (1964) lists the most important characteristics in which Chewings Fescue differs from F. heterophylla Lam., F. nigrescens Schleich. and F. ovina L. According to him, F. nigrescens is most easily distinguished from F. rubra genuina by its lack of runners. He does not mention any characteristics suitable with a view to seed research.

Attempts have been made to draw certain conclusions from the re-classification of the grass as a separate species and the re-introduction of the probably oldest name with regard to the applicability of seed regulations. The view has been held that this species could not be governed by those regulations because the name F. nigrescens is not mentioned in them. It has been overlooked, however, that the seed regulations do not deal with names, but with plant races, except in the case of protected names of varieties, and that the identity of F. rubra fallax and F. nigrescens has been proved."

Later in 1996 a follow up note on the paper by Lindenbein (1966) made by Eisele (1966) translated as .."Patzke (1964) has attempted to prove that we are most likely justified in differentiating botanically between the cluster-forming red fescue and the stoloniferous one. I believe that Patzke has succeeded in proving this. For the two species of red fescue we now have the two designations, F. rubra L. (stoloniferous red fescue) and F. nigrescens Lam. (cluster forming red fescue. While the stoloniferous red fescue has a certain value for agriculture, in the starting of pastures, the cluster-forming red fescue can be used only to the establishment of lawns.

Considerations with regard to the Seed Law. In the list of species the seed law lists the species F. rubra L. Until the publication of the article by Patzke (1964) F. rubra var. fallax Thuill., of course, also belonged to it. This fact brought about a few unpleasant consequences: since F. fallax is not suited for agriculture, it is impossible to have a breeding variety entered in the German Variety List by the Federal Variety Office as no agricultural value can be indicated. Since, on the other hand, seed of red fescue can be propagated in Germany only if it belongs to a variety that can be recognized, the German farmers have been deprived of a production possibility. Something that can actually be produced in the Federal Republic must be imported.

According to my conception, the facts are clear: the cluster-forming red fescue does not come under the concept of F. rubra L., but under that of F. nigrescens which in not listed in the list of species. Thus, the cluster-forming red fescue is not subject to the provisions of the Seed Law.

Unfortunately, it seems that so far the agricultural testing stations are not able to distinguish the seed of cluster-forming red fescue from that of stoloniferous red fescue. This raises the thought that it may be no good if the trade in seed from cluster-forming red fescue cannot be controlled by the Seed Law. Against this we have to weigh arguments: firstly, seed of F. ovina cannot be distinguished from F. rubra and F. nigrescens either, and in the case of F. ovina the desire has never been expressed to have it placed under the Seed Law. Secondly, the production of F. nigrescens is much more difficult than the production of F. rubra, so that the seed must always be sold at a high price. As a result the sense of the Seed Law, namely the protection of agriculture from non-productive seed is completely fulfilled, since nobody would entertain the idea of delivering seed of F. nigrescens instead of seed of F. rubra.

The article of Patzke (1964) is thus of national economic interest: the vicious circle: demand of agricultural value, registered variety, inland production, demand for lawn seed, has been broken. Seed for lawn use can be produced in the Federal Republic. The recognition does not prevent any agreements with the producers as regards the special quality required for law (freedom from Lolium perenne, special treatment for weeds injurious to lawns). An amount corresponding to the demand can be imported as in the case of F. ovina. Until now there existed for F. rubra an import restriction which had the effect that a tall-growing breeding variety of F. rubra used in agriculture, was frequently used for lawns as a substitute for F. nigrescens. The thanks are due to Mr. E. Patzke!"

The two translations above were among papers collected by W.G. Dore, Agriculture Canada.

Shildrick (1976) summarized nomenclatural problems among red fescue cultivars in England recognizing three categories, and stating that English common names have not been agreed on, as was still the case in Duyvendak et al. (1981).

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).