Festuca of North America


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

Festuca rubra L. subsp. rubra s.l.



Sp. Pl.: 74. 1753. Type: Europe: in sterilibus siccis.

For extensive lists of synonymy see Hultén (1942), Hitchcock and Chase (1951), Tzvelev (1976), Alexeev (1985), Pavlick (1985). The following description is based on data collected from plants considered to be commercial cultivars of slender and strong creeping red fescue.

Habit. Plants yellowish green or bluish gray green or deep green, 15–90(–120) cm high, not densely tufted (unless plants are constrained by habitat factors), tiller bases stiffly erect or not stiffly erect, bases purplish (reddish colour usually apparent), horizontal rooting stems present (sometimes suppressed in rocky environments). Vegetative shoots arising outside, or breaking through the base of existing sheaths.

Vegetative morphology. Sheaths with trichomes (usually retrose, but less commonly glabrescent or glabrous), not conspicuous at the base of the plant, splitting between the veins, closed more than half their length. Collars glabrous. Auricles represented by distinct, erect, swellings or absent. Auricular cilia absent. Ligules 0.1–0.5 mm long, ciliate. Leaf blades 6–30 cm long, more or less lax. Adaxial blade surfaces with trichomes, abaxial blade surfaces glabrous. Leaf blades flat or plicate, 1–4 mm wide; 0.4–1.1 mm wide, 0.65–1.25 mm deep. Veins 5–7. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma well developed, in discrete, relatively narrow strands opposite the veins. Ribs 5 (well defined). Uppermost culm leaf sheaths not inflated. Flag leaf blades 3–8 cm long. Culm nodes becoming exposed or never exposed, 1–2 (when visible); internodes glabrous.

Floral morphology. Inflorescence (2–)5–14(–20) cm long. Inflorescence branches at the lowest node 1–4, appressed after anthesis (usually, lower branches sometimes spreading), 1.5–8 cm long. Rachis angular in cross section, trichomes mainly on the ridges (usually) or trichomes over the entire surface (rarely). Spikelets loosely scattered in an open panicle with slender branches or aggregated towards the ends of the branches; 3–7 on the longest branches; (6–)9–12(–13) mm long, 3–4.5 mm wide. Proliferating spikelets present, or absent (plants with proliferating spikelets have sometimes been referred to as F. prolifera (Piper) Fernald). Florets (2–)4–6(–10). Glumes unequal, glabrous or with trichomes, vestiture at the apex only or over most of the outer surface, margins ciliate. First glume (2–)2.5–3.5(–4.5) mm long, veins 1(–3). Second glume shorter than the first lemma, 3.5–5.5(–6) mm long, veins 3. Rachilla internodes antrorsely scabrous. Lemma callus not elongated. Lemma (4–)5–7(–8) mm long, nerveless in dorsal view or sometimes with only the centre vein distinct, glabrous or with trichomes (usually), trichomes on the upper portion only; apex entire. Lemma awn (0.3–)1–3.3(–5) mm long. Palea 5–6.6 mm long, distinctly pubescent between the keels. Lodicules with marginal teeth, glabrous, 0.8–1.1 mm long. Anthers (2.2–)3–4(–4.5) mm long. Ovary apex glabrous. Caryopsis 3–4.5 mm long.

Cytology. 2n = 14, 21, 28, 42, 49, 53, 56, 64, 70.

Habitat and Distribution. Native and introduced; naturalized, or cultivated crop, or cultivated ornamental (turf and sometimes pasture species). Greenland; Canada: Labrador, Nfld., NS, P.E.I., NB, Que., Ont., Man., Sask., Alta., B.C., Franklin District (NWT) (?), Keewatin District (NWT) (?), Mackenzie District (NWT), Yukon; Northwestern USA: Alaska, Oreg., Wash.; Southwestern USA: Ariz., Calif., Nev.; Rocky Mountains USA: Colo., Idaho, Mont., Utah, Wyo.; North Central USA: Iowa, Ill., Minn., Mo., Nebr., 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., Ga. (?), Ky. (?), Md., N.C., S.C., Tenn., Va., W.Va (?).

Classification. Subg. Festuca L.


This treatment covers most of the F. rubra complex including over 100 cultivars. Members of the F. rubra complex may be identified by the presence of young tiller sheaths that are fused in a tube almost to the top (Stace et al. 1992). One may be alerted to look for this character if the sheaths are reddish brown with retrorse hairs and the older sheaths are fibrillose. Leaf cross sections of the F. rubra complex are characteristic (Aiken and Consaul 1995).

In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) list of Cultivars Eligible for Certification (1993), 211 cultivars of red fescue from thirteen countries in Europe and North America are listed. Festuca rubra has been introduced or bred to produce new cultivars throughout North America many times, particularly in regions from Oregon in the south, to the Peace River District of Alberta in the north. The taxonomy of the F. rubra complex in northwestern North America was examined by Pavlick (1985) who stated that the taxa, that he recognized, intergrade morphologically. It has not been possible to apply his treatment, that was developed for British Columbia, to the variation within F. rubra s.l. that is observed in the whole of North America.

Attempts were made to separate an Atlantic coastal subspecies, based on plants that appear to be a slender creeping red fescue and relatively salt tolerant. Much of the Atlantic coast has been farmed for more than two centuries and it was found that distinctions between native and introduced plants could not be made satisfactorily based on herbarium material. It is understood that Martin Dubé and coauthors (Dubé and Morisset 1983, 1987, 1995, Dubé, et al., 1985) are working on the problem.


• Roadside photograph of "red" fescue plants. Roadside planting of F. rubra subsp. rubra in Western Canada. • Field grown plants. Plants of F. rubra subsp. rubra in an experimental plot at the Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa. The upper plant is F. rubra; the lower plant is F. rubra subsp. richardsonii, transplanted to Ottawa, from the Yukon. • Leaf anatomy. Leaf cross section of F. rubra subsp. rubra. Leaf blades are 0.4–1.1 mm wide and 0.65–1.25 mm deep, with 5–7 veins. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands are absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma strands are well developed, in discrete, relatively narrow strands opposite the veins. There are 5 well defined ribs.

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).