Festuca rubra L.

red fescue

New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

Where native and non-native distributions co-occur in a county, only the native distribution is shown.

North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Red fescue is a highly variable species with a circumboreal distribution. Four subspecies exist in New England, of which only one (Festuca rubra ssp. pruinosa) is native, and restricted to Atlantic coast beaches, headlands, and near-coastal habitats. The other subspecies are typically weeds of human-disturbed habitats. Strains of red fescue have been used extensively for rehabilitation of disturbed sites such as mine tailings.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), cliffs, balds, or ledges, coastal beaches (sea beaches), meadows and fields, talus and rocky slopes

Characteristics

Habitat
terrestrial
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Leaf blade width
0.3–3 mm
Inflorescence branches
the flowers are attached to branches rather than to the main axis of the inflorescence
Spikelet length
7–17 mm
Glume relative length
neither glume is quite as long as all of the florets
Awn on glume
the glume has no awn
One or more florets
there is more than one floret per spikelet
Lemma awn length
0.1–4 mm
Leaf sheath hair type
there are hairs on the surface of the leaf sheath, but the hairs do not have blisters at their bases
Leaf ligule length
0.1–0.5 mm
Anther length
1.8–4.5 mm
Show All Characteristics
  • Flowers
    Anther length
    1.8–4.5 mm
    Anther number
    3
    Awn on glume
    the glume has no awn
    Bristles below spikelets
    no
    Floret lower bract texture
    the lemma is thin and flexible
    Floret number
    3–10
    Floret types within spikelet
    all the florets within a spikelet are similar
    Glume awn length
    0 mm
    Glume keel
    • the glume keels are rough or hairy
    • the glume keels are smooth and hairless
    Glume relative length
    neither glume is quite as long as all of the florets
    Glume shape
    the glume is V-shaped in cross-section
    Glume veins
    • 1
    • 3
    Glumes per spikelet
    2
    Inflorescence axis orientation
    the inflorescence axis is straight
    Inflorescence branch roughness
    • the inflorescence branches are smooth or only slightly rough
    • the inflorescence branches are somewhat to very rough
    Inflorescence branches
    the flowers are attached to branches rather than to the main axis of the inflorescence
    Inflorescence branches coming off the lowest stem node
    1–3
    Inflorescence crowding
    the panicle is somewhat to very spread out, with clearly-evident branches
    Inflorescence length
    30–300 mm
    Inflorescence length to width ratio
    3–10
    Inflorescence type (general)
    the spikelets are borne on stalks or on branches
    Inflorescence type (specific)
    the inflorescence is branched, and the branches do NOT both grow from the same side of the plant AND look like spikes
    Inflorescence width
    10–30 mm
    Inforescence position
    the spikelets are mainly carried at the end of the stem
    Lemma awn base
    the awn is attached right at the tip of the lemma
    Lemma awn coiled
    the lemma awn is straight or twisted, but not coiled one half turn
    Lemma awn length
    0.1–4 mm
    Lemma awn number
    the lemma has one awn on it
    Lemma awn orientation
    the awn of the lemma is straight
    Lemma base hair length
    0 mm
    Lemma base hairs
    the lemma is hairless or feels just a tiny bit rough at the base
    Lemma cross-section
    • the lemma is V-shaped if you cut across the midpoint
    • the lemma is flat or rounded if you cut across the midpoint
    Lemma hairs
    • the lemma has fine hairs between the veins
    • the lemma is hairless between the veins
    Lemma keel hairs
    the keel of the lemma is hairless
    Lemma marginal vein hairs
    the marginal vein of the lemma is hairless
    Lemma surface
    the surface of the lemma is relatively smooth (not counting any longitudinal veins or hairs)
    Lemma tip
    the lemma tip is a simple point, with or without an awn (long narrow extension ending in a point)
    Lemma tip shape
    • the lemma tip tapers to a long narrow point (it may or may not also have an awn or teeth at the tip)
    • the lemma tip tapers to a narrow point (it may or may not also have an awn or teeth at the tip)
    Lemma vein number
    • 1
    • 5
    Lemma vein orientation
    the veins on the lemma come together near the tip
    Lower glume length
    2.2–7 mm
    Lower glume relative length
    • the lower glume is nearly as long, or as long as, the upper glume
    • the lower glume is one third to three quarters as long as the upper glume
    One or more florets
    there is more than one floret per spikelet
    Palea length
    4.5–7 mm
    Reproductive system
    all the flowers on the plant have both carpels and stamens (synoecious)
    Spikelet disintegration
    the spikelet breaks off above the glumes, so that after the florets fall off, the glumes remain
    Spikelet length
    7–17 mm
    Spikelet number per node
    0
    Spikelet pedicel
    the spikelets have pedicels
    Spikelet position
    • the spikelets emerge from both the upper and lower halves of the inflorescence branches
    • the spikelets emerge mainly from the upper halves of the inflorescence branches
    Spikelet width
    3–4 mm
    Spikelets per panicle branch
    At least 2
    Spikelets spiny
    the spikelets do not appear spiny
    Tip of glume
    the tip of the glume is not divided (though it may have an awn on it)
    Upper glume length
    3.5–8.5 mm
    Upper glume relative length
    the upper glume is more than one half as long as the lowest lemma
    Upper glume shape
    the upper glume is widest at or below the middle
  • Fruits or seeds
    Groove on seed
    the caryopsis has a groove running most of its length
    Seed length
    2–4.5 mm
  • Growth form
    Horizontal rooting stem
    • no
    • yes
    Lifespan
    the plant lives more than two years
    Rhizomes
    • no
    • yes
    Roots
    • the plant has rhizomes (horizontal underground stem with roots growing from it)
    • there are only slender roots on the plant
  • Leaves
    Basal leaves
    the plant has large or prominent tufts of leaves at the base of the flowering stem
    Leaf auricles
    • the leaves do not have auricles
    • the leaves have auricles
    Leaf basal lobe hairy
    • NA
    • the lobes at the base of the leaf blades are hairless
    Leaf blade base
    the leaf is tapered gradually to the base
    Leaf blade cross-section
    • the leaf blade is clearly folded or rolled inwards
    • the leaf blade is more or less flat in cross-section, or slightly folded or rolled inwards
    Leaf blade hairs
    the leaf blade is hairless, but it may have tiny prickles that give it a sand-papery feel
    Leaf blade length
    Up to 15 cm
    Leaf blade texture
    • the leaf blade is rough and sandpapery
    • the leaf blade is smooth, or it may have soft hairs
    Leaf blade width
    0.3–3 mm
    Leaf ligule length
    0.1–0.5 mm
    Leaf ligule type
    • the leaf ligule is in the form of a membrane
    • the leaf ligule is in the form of a membrane with fine hairs
    Leaf margin glands
    there are no glands along the edges of the leaf blade
    Leaf sheath closed around stem
    the leaf sheath closes around the stem
    Leaf sheath color and persistence
    the leaf sheathes are reddish-brown and disintegrate or become shredded in older leaves
    Leaf sheath hair type
    there are hairs on the surface of the leaf sheath, but the hairs do not have blisters at their bases
    Leaf sheath hairs
    there are hairs on the surface of the leaf sheath
    Orientation of topmost leaf
    the flag leaf is held upright, or at less than a 45 degree angle out from the stem
  • Place
    Habitat
    terrestrial
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • cliffs, balds, or ledges
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
    • sea beaches
    • talus or rocky slopes
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Hairs at nodes
    the stem nodes are hairless or they have very sparse hairs
    Plant height
    15–130 cm
    Roots at lower stem nodes
    • no
    • yes
    Stem hairs
    the stem is nearly to completely hairless
    Stem node number
    1–3
    Stem orientation
    • the stems are upright
    • the stems trail at the base, but turn upwards at the tips
    Stem spacing
    • the stems grow close together in compact clusters or tufts
    • the stems grow singly or a few together (they may form diffuse colonies)

Wetland Status

Usually occurs in non-wetlands, but occasionally in wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FACU)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

ssp. falax

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

ssp. rubra

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Schedonorus pratensis:
leaf blades 2-7 mm wide, with auricles at summit of the leaf sheath (vs. F. rubra, with leaf blades 0.3-3 mm wide, lacking auricles at the summit of the leaf sheath).

Synonyms

  • Festuca nigrescens Lam.
  • Festuca rubra var. commutata Gaudin

Family

Poaceae

Genus

Festuca

Notes on Subspecies and Varieties in New England

Festuca rubra L. ssp. rubra is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT and is non-native. F. rubra ssp. commutata Gaudin is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT and is non-native. F. rubra ssp. fallax (Thuill.) Nyman is known from MA, ME, NH, VT and is non-native. F. rubra ssp. pruinosa (Hack.) Piper is known from MA, ME, NH and is native to North America.

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

5.  Festuca rubra L. n

red fescue.  5a. Festuca diffusa Dumort.; F. heteromalla Pourret; F. multiflora Hoffmann; F. rubra L. var. multiflora (Hoffmann) Aschers. & Graebn.;  5b. Festuca rubra L. ssp. densiuscula Hack. ex Piper; F. rubra L. ssp. juncea (Hack.) Soó; F. rubra L.  var. juncea (Hack.) Richter;  
5c. Festuca duriuscula L.; F. ovina L. var. rubra (L.) Sm.;  5d. Festuca nigrescens Lam.; F. rubra L. var. commutata Gaudin • CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Fields, roadsides, lawns, disturbed soil, 
coastal beaches and headlands.

1a.  Leaf blades of vegetative shoots 0.8–3 mm wide, flat or loosely folded; anthers 
3.5–4.5 mm long … 5a. F. rubra ssp. fallax (Thuill.) Nyman

1b.  Leaf blades of vegetative shoots 0.3–1 mm wide, tightly folded (rarely up to 2 mm wide 
and flat in F. rubra ssp. rubra); anthers 1.8–3.5 mm long

2a.  Leaf blades stiff, wiry, and strongly glaucous; plants of Atlantic coast beaches, headlands, and near coast habitats … 5b. F. rubra ssp. pruinosa (Hack.) Piper

2b.  Leaf blades relatively soft, not wiry, green or slightly glaucous; plants primarily of human-disturbed and cultivated areas

3a.  Anthers 2.4–3.5 mm long; plants rhizomatous, the stems loosely cespitose; upper glumes 4–6.4 mm long; lemmas (4–) 6–7.5 (–8) mm long … 5c. F. rubra ssp. rubra

3b.  Anthers 1.8–2.2 (–3) mm long; plants without rhizomes, the stems densely cespitose; upper glumes 3.5–5 mm long; lemmas 4.5–6 mm long 
 … 5d. F. rubra ssp. commutata Gaudin

Subspecies fallax is known from MA, ME, NH, VT. Subspecies pruinosa is known from MA, ME, NH. Subspecies rubra is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Subspecies commutata is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Festuca rubra ssp. pruinosa represents plants of the F. rubra complex that are native to North America, whereas the other subspecies are non-native. This taxon is found on coastal beaches and headlands (as opposed to more human-modified habitats). It is a cespitose species with upper glume and lemma measurements comparable to subspecies commutata, except the foliage is different and the anthers are 2.3–3.2 mm long (see key above). Subspecies pruinosa has moderate sized anthers, similar to ssp. rubra; however, it commonly has smaller floral parts compared with ssp. rubra (lower glumes 2.2–3.2 (–4.5) mm long and lemmas 4.5–6 (–6.5) mm long in ssp. pruinosa vs. lower glumes 3–4.5 mm long and lemmas (4–) 6–7.5 (–8) mm long in ssp. rubra).