Festuca of North America


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

Festuca trachyphylla (Hack.) Krajina



Acta Bot. Bohem. 9: 190, tab. 2, fig. 5,6. 1930. F. ovina subsp. eu-ovina var. duriuscula subvar. trachyphylla Hack., Monogr. Festuc. Europ.: 91. 1882. Type: Germany. Brandenberg: Prenzlau, 90 km N.N.E. of Berlin, 1.5.(18) 65, Grantzow, ex herb Hackel. Lectotype: W, 977. (Wilkinson & Stace 1989, p. 295).

F. duriuscula auct. non L. 1753. F. ovina var. duriuscula auct. non (L.) Koch. 1837.

Festuca longifolia forma villosa (Schrad.) Dore, in McNeill and Dore, Naturaliste Canad. 103: 560. 1966, non Festuca ovina var. villosa Schrad. 1806.

F. brevipila Tracey, Plant Syst. Evol. 128: 287. 1977.

Wilkinson and Stace (1989, 1991) cite further synonymy and discuss related taxa that are relevant to the occurrence of the taxon in Eurasia, and their concerns about the validity of the name.

Habit. Plants yellowish green or bluish gray green or deep green (sometimes glaucous, blue-green), (20–)30–50(–75) cm high, densely tufted, tiller bases stiffly erect or not stiffly erect, bases purplish (sometimes slightly purple), horizontal rooting stems absent. Vegetative shoots arising from within existing sheaths.

Vegetative morphology. Sheaths glabrous or glabrescent or with trichomes, conspicuous at the base of the plant, persisting for more than 1 year (but not always conspicuous), remaining entire, not conspicuously splitting between the veins, open more than half their length. Collars glabrous. Auricles represented by distinct, erect, swellings. Ligules 0.1–0.3 mm long, ciliate. Leaf blades 8–30 cm long, erect, stiffish (hard). Adaxial blade surfaces with trichomes, abaxial blade surfaces glabrous or with trichomes (scabrous, sometimes tomentose). Leaf blades plicate; 0.4–0.47–0.6 mm wide, 0.75–0.9–1.15 mm deep. Veins (5–)7. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma well developed, in broad bands or continuous (forming an interrupted or almost continuous, unevenly thickened ring; Markgraf-Dannenberg (1980) indicated that the sclerenchyma is sometimes in 3 strands, but this has not been found in North American specimens). Ribs 3–5. Uppermost culm leaf sheaths not inflated. Flag leaf blades 2–7 cm long. Culm nodes becoming exposed, 1–2; internodes glabrous, or densely pubescent (sometimes retrorsely hairy just below the panicle).

Floral morphology. Inflorescence 3–10(–13) cm long. Inflorescence branches at the lowest node 1, appressed after anthesis, 1.2–3.5 cm long. Rachis angular in cross section, trichomes over the entire surface (strongly scabrid). Spikelets aggregated towards the ends of the branches; 1–5 on the longest branches; 5.5–9(–10) mm long. Proliferating spikelets absent (usually, but occurring occasionally in North American material e.g. CAN 525881). Florets 4–7(–8). Glumes unequal, with trichomes, vestiture at the apex only (and on midvein), margins ciliate. First glume 2–4 mm long, veins 1–3. Second glume shorter than the first lemma, 3–5.5 mm long, veins 3. Rachilla internodes antrorsely scabrous. Lemma callus not elongated. Lemma (3.8–)4–5(–5.5) 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 (very variable; almost glabrous, glabrous with long hairs on margins near apex, or surface completely scabrous); apex entire. Lemma awn 0.5–2.5 mm long (Markgraf-Dannenberg (1980) describes the awn as about half as long as the lemma). Palea 4–5 mm long, distinctly pubescent between the keels. Lodicules with marginal teeth, glabrous, 0.6–1 mm long. Anthers 2–3(–3.4) mm long. Ovary apex glabrous. Caryopsis 2.5–3.5 mm long.

Cytology. 2n = 42.

Habitat and Distribution. Introduced; cultivated crop (ground cover). Greenland; Northwestern USA: Wash.; Southwestern USA: Calif.; Rocky Mountains USA: Wyo.; North Central USA: Iowa (?), Ill., Minn., Mo., Wis.; South Central USA: N. Mex.; Northeastern USA: Conn. (?), Mass., Maine, Mich., N.H., N.Y., Ohio (?), Pa., Vt.; Southeastern USA: Ky. (?), Md. (?), Miss, Tenn. (?), Va. (?).

Classification. Subg. Festuca L.


An Eurasian native that is widely introduced in North America as "hard", "sheep", or "ovina" fescue for land stabilization on pipelines, mine tailings, ski slopes, and roadside plantings. It has been observed planted on mine tailings in Sudbury, Ontario, on ground disturbed by the Alaskan pipeline project through Alberta, and on ski slopes in the Appalachian Mountains.

McNeill and Dore (1976) discussed this species under the name F. longifolia and explained that although it is definitely related to F. ovina, the type of F. duriuscula L. is a member of the F. rubra group and so the epithet cannot be applied in this sense. While they were aware that Tzvelev (1972b) had adopted the name F. trachyphylla they referred to other European authors Auquier (1973) and Kerguélen (1975) who retained the name F. longifolia for at least part of F. duriuscula auct. Markgraf-Dannenberg (1980), followed Tzvelev (1972b, 1976) and adopted the name F. trachyphylla for hexaploid plants of the complex. Kerguélen, when he visited Ottawa in the early 1980's, annotated plants collected in Quebec as F. trachyphylla and stated that F. longifolia is a more delicate, diploid species with limited distribution on sandy acidic soils in coastal western Europe, southern Britain, and northwestern and central Europe.

Alexeev (1975) described F. trachyphylla as an anthropogenic, introgressive, hybrid species of F. valesiaca Schleich. ex Gaud. × F. ovina L.

Wilkinson and Stace (1989) selected a lectotype for the name F. ovina subsp. eu-ovina var. duriuscula subvar. trachyphylla Hack. but pointed to the combination F. trachyphylla Hack. ex Druce, which is an earlier homonym of F. trachyphylla (Hack.) Krajina. Wilkinson and Stace (1989) rejected the latter name in favour of F. brevipila Tracey. The use of the "trachyphylla" epithet by Druce appears to have been an unintended slip for the epithet "trachylepis" and, although not corrected, was never repeated in his later works. Additionally, the grammatical construction and use of pronouns in the protologue is ambiguous and the diagnosis provided is not clearly attached to the name F. trachyphylla. The interpretation of F. trachyphylla Hack. ex Druce as nomen nudum is adopted here (based on extensive work by S. J. Darbyshire, personal communication 1995 and quoted here with his permission).

Lui and Dengler (1992) in an anatomical study found that the early stages of development of the closed sheaths of F. rubra s.l. and the open sheaths of F. trachyphylla had many similarities. Darbyshire and Warwick (1992) were unable to distinguished the chloroplast DNA of the two taxa.


• Growing as an ornamental plant. Festuca trachyphylla growing as an ornamental plant. Photograph taken at the horticultural gardens, Agriculture Canada, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa. • Growing as "no mow" grass. Festuca trachyphylla being grown as a "no mow" grass. Photograph taken at Alberta Ellerslie Experimental Station, Edmonton, Alberta. • Leaf anatomy. Leaf cross section of F. trachyphylla. Leaf blades are 0.4–0.47–0.6 mm wide and 0.75–0.9–1.15 mm deep, with (5-)7 veins. Adaxial to abaxial sclerenchyma strands are absent. Abaxial sclerenchyma strands are well developed, in broad bands or continuous forming an interrupted or almost continuous, unevenly thickened ring; Markgarf-Dannenberg (1980) indicated that the sclerenchyma is sometimes in 3 strands, but this has not been found in North American specimens. There are 3–5 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).