Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Walsh, Roberta A. 1995. Festuca rubra. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Festuca rubra subsp. secunda var. mediana Pavlick 
= Festuca rubra subsp. mediana (Pavlick) Pavlick, red fescue 
Festuca rubra subsp. commutata Gaudin 
= Festuca rubra subsp. falax Thuill.
Festuca rubra subsp. rubra var. planifolia Hack.
= Festuca rubra var. planifolia Hack. 
NRCS PLANT CODE  :
COMMON NAMES :
The scientific name of red fescue is Festuca rubra L. (Poaceae) [27,39,42,79,87].
Infrataxa are as follows [45,79]:
Festuca rubra subsp. arctica (Hack.) Govor., Richardson's fescue
Festuca rubra subsp. arenaria (Osbeck) Syme
Festuca rubra subsp. aucta (Krecz. & Bobr.) Hulten
Festuca rubra subsp. fallax Thuill., Chewing's fescue
Festuca rubra subsp. mediana (Pavlick) Pavlick
Festuca rubra subsp. pruinosa (Hack.) Piper
Festuca rubra subsp. rubra L.
Festuca rubra subsp. secunda (J. Presl) Pavlick
Festuca rubra subsp. vallicola (Rydb.) Pavlick
Festuca rubra var. planifolia Hack.
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Red fescue is distributed circumboreally [4,44,87]. It occurs
throughout the United States, with the exception of the southeast from
Louisiana to Florida [26,27,41,42,62]. Some authors consider red fescue
to be native to the northern coastal areas of the United States
[14,26,72]; some or all inland forms may be introduced [26,71]. Red
fescue occurs in all provinces and territories of Canada [23,42,44,67].
It also occurs in Mexico , Europe [46,53], Africa [41,56], Asia
[59,67], and New Zealand .
Red fescue occurs in most ecosystems.
AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE GA HI ID
IL IN IA KS KY ME MD MA MI MN
MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND
OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT
VT VA WA WV WI WY DC AB BC MB
NB NF NT NS ON PE PQ SK YT MEXICO
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
Red fescue occurs in most Kuchler Plant Associations.
SAF COVER TYPES :
Red fescue occurs in most SAF Cover Types.
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
Red fescue occurs in most SRM Cover Types.
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Red fescue is a dominant species in the following published
A digitized computer-compatible classification for natural and potential
vegetation in the Southwest with particular reference to Arizona 
Coastal prairie and northern coastal scrub 
Plant association and management guide: Willamette National Forest 
Plant associations of the Fremont National Forest 
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Red fescue is a valuable forage grass .
Deer and moose used a mine site in west-central Alberta that was seeded
in 1979 with a mix that included red fescue. Fecal fragment analysis
showed that between 1981 and 1985, red fescue averaged 1.6 percent of
deer fecal mass and 0.2 percent of moose fecal mass. Seasonal
differences in red fescue use were not determined .
Roosevelt elk grazed red fescue on a meadow in the redwood (Sequoia
sempervirens) belt on the northwestern coast of California from November
1959 through October 1960. Red fescue cover was 0.8 percent; elk
utilized red fescue 0.5 percent of the time they were eating .
Lesser snow geese graze red fescue in the upper zone of saltmarsh
plant communities at La Perouse Bay, Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay coast.
Extensive grubbing of patches has led to formation of open areas covered
by peat where formerly the red fescue community was extensive .
In Alberta red fescue palatability is rated fair for livestock . In
Utah it is rated good for cattle and horses and fair for sheep .
Sheep on alpine range ate a diet composed of a large number of species.
Red fescue and sheep fescue (Festuca ovina) were the preferred grass
species, constituting 13 percent of diets .
In the Intermountain region red fescue is only moderately palatable
during the summer, but because it maintains green leaves after frost it
is a preferred grass in the fall .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
In Alberta red fescue leaves retain their nutritive value even after
freeze-up, providing grazing until snow is too deep for accessibility.
The quality of mature standing red fescue is adequate for beef cows on
maintenance rations .
In Utah food values are listed as good for elk, fair for mule deer,
small nongame birds, and small mammals, and poor for pronghorns and
upland game birds. Energy value is rated fair .
In vitro digestibility of cellulose and mean digestible protein at each
stage of growth (leaf, heading, seed ripe, cured, and weathered) is
reported for red fescue growing in southwestern Alberta. Compared to
the other grasses measured, red fescue maintained a relatively high
protein content throughout the year. It had very low cellulose
digestibility at the weathered stage of growth .
COVER VALUE :
In Utah red fescue cover is rated fair for small nongame birds and small
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Fed fescue may colonize disturbed areas naturally. It was found on
abandoned coal mine sites in foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Alberta.
The mine spoil heaps had a variety of soils, ranging from silts and
clays to gravelly sands mixed with coal. Red fescue was rare to
abundant . Red fescue established naturally on an abandoned road at
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The road was fertilized with phosphorus 2 years
after abandonment. Fifteen years after abandonment, red fescue cover
was 0.6 percent on unfertilized areas and 1.7 percent on fertilized
In areas with temperate climate, red fescue is used to prevent erosion
on irrigation ditches , in channel banks on waterways , and along
highway and railway rights-of-way . It is useful for holding
hillsides and highway slopes . It is also planted for soil
conservation in the western states .
Rhizomatous red fescue is recommended for seeding quaking aspen (Populus
tremuloides) openings and subalpine mountain areas in the Intermountain
region. Red fescue makes a heavy litter and is a good soil builder
Red fescue was planted with a mixture of other grass and legume species
that were not native to the site in a disturbed mixed-grass prairie in
southwestern Manitoba. The seeded plots did not produce higher standing
crop or below-ground biomass than did unseeded plots. Prairie
recovering without seeding produced higher cover and greater abundance
of native species than did seeded prairie .
Red fescue has been seeded on disturbed subalpine sites in Colorado and
Montana. In Climax, Colorado, red fescue was seeded on sites from
10,350 to 13,500 feet (3,155-4,115 m) elevation that had been disturbed
by mining, logging, sheep grazing, and railroad construction. Twenty
grass species were originally seeded; red fescue is one of seven that
were successful . Red fescue was used to seed subalpine areas
disturbed by ski run construction in Montana. Several years after
seeding it was present in four of six areas and was dominant in one; it
had persisted for at least 10 years in some areas .
Red fescue has been used to revegetate disturbed sites in northern
Canada [55,90]. In Alaska it has been used in Denali National Park and
Preserve , the Alaska Range , the central Brooks Range , and
other areas [49,57]. Seeded red fescue may decline within one to two
decades of establishment [15,19,81]. Populations and cultivars best
adapted for revegetation in specific regions have been identified
[49,55,81]. Seeded red fescue may suppress or delay recovery of other
native plants .
Red fescue is sensitive to sulfur dioxide air pollution. At Smoking
Hills on the east coast of Cape Bathurst in the Northwest Territories,
red fescue occurred at sites which were not fumigated by sulfur dioxide,
sulfuric acid mists, or aerosols. It occurred in trace amounts in areas
of moderate pollution, and was absent from severely polluted sites .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Creeping red fescue is used extensively for turf [29,71].
Red fescue can provide good ground cover. Because of limited top growth
and heavy understory growth some cultivars are used as a cover crop in
Red fescue can cause hayfever .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Red fescue is a decreaser in response to excessive grazing  or site
Rhizomatous red fescue is tolerant of close grazing, but is a decreaser
when overgrazed. If it is grazed at correct stocking rates and given
adequate time to recover, it can maintain or even increase in yield over
the years .
Many cultivars of red fescue are available commercially .
On the Beartooth Plateau, Montana, red fescue invaded undisturbed alpine
vegetation from heavily disturbed roadcuts where it had been introduced.
Its frequency at alpine sites was 40 percent .
Red fescue root leachates have been shown to inhibit root and shoot
growth of shrubs .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Red fescue is a cool-season , perennial, loosely to densely tufted
grass [26,30,42]. Red fescue culms are hollow, 12 to 39 inches (30-100
cm) tall [26,74], and erect from a curved base [44,87]. Young basal
shoots emerge from leaf axils and break through the bases of leaf
sheaths. The lower sheaths soon disintegrate into loose fibers [23,26].
Leaves are mostly basal [62,88]; blades are 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long
[4,30] and 0.04 to 0.09 inch (1-2 mm) wide [26,30]. The inflorescence
is a narrow panicle 1.2 to 8 inches (3-20 cm) long [39,41]. Spikelets
are three- to ten-flowered [23,26,30,62]. Lemmas are awnless to awned
; the awns are up to 0.16 inch (4 mm) long [4,39,59]. Red fescue
may spread by strong rhizomes, forming a turf; plants with this growth
form are called creeping red fescue. Red fescue may be without
rhizomes, forming only tufts. It may also be intermediate, forming
short rhizomes [53,71]. In some red fescue populations rhizome growth
is a response to environmental conditions .
Red fescue is long lived in northern latitudes and at high elevations.
It can form dense cover .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Red fescue reproduces by seeds and spreads vegetatively .
Evidence from European populations indicates that red fescue does
not form a persistent buried seedbank [11,65,77,78].
Red fescue can spread clonally by rhizomes ; it does not inhibit its
own spread. The largest recorded single red fescue clone was 722 feet
(220 m) in diameter and was estimated to be over 1,000 years old .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Red fescue occurs on dry to wet sites [17,30] in open habitats  from
sea level to high elevations . It is found on sand dunes
[39,42,47,51], dry beaches [1,18,23,67], and coastal headlands [23,39].
It occurs at the upper zone of tidal salt marshes [12,18,56,67]. It
grows on freshwater shores , bogs, and marshes [30,41]. It occurs
in mountain meadows and clearings . It is found in fields, on
roadsides [62,85], and on disturbed sites .
Red fescue tolerates spring flooding and some water logging, and grows
well under irrigation. It can grow on clay, loam, and sandy soils
provided moisture is adequate. It is also able to withstand some
drought. It tolerates low fertility soils fairly well .
Red fescue is somewhat tolerant of salinity ; in a saltmarsh in
Britain, red fescue occurred on the most elevated, least salty areas
. Red fescue in open areas along Oregon coast headlands increases
in importance very close to the shore. Red fescue is probably more
resistant to salt spray than are its associates on these sites .
In Denali National Park red fescue grows on soil with pH 5.7 to 6.0 at
the 2-inch (5 cm) level . Lower pH limit for red fescue is 4.5 .
Red fescue is reported at the following elevations:
Alaska 1,300- 3,000 396- 914 [19,82]
Arizona 8,500-11,000 2,591-3,353 
California 0- 9,000 0-2,743 [39,56,59]
Colorado 7,000-13,500 2,134-4,115 [9,17,36]
Montana 3,200- 5,000 975-1,524 
Oregon 3,700- 8,000 1,128-2,438 [2,38,43]
Utah 4,500- 9,300 1,372-2,835 
Wyoming 8,000 2,438 
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Red fescue is not shade tolerant. It is a component of mountaintop
vegetation in the Oregon Coast Ranges. Red fescue occurs in meadow
stands, and its cover does not decline along the meadow edge of the tree
border. However, its cover drops to zero within the 16 foot (5 m) wide
ecocline of invading trees. Red fescue is not found within the
established forest . Red fescue occurred after logging in the
western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) biogeoclimatic zone in southwestern
British Columbia. The sites had been scarified and planted with
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Red fescue occurred at 41 to 60
percent frequency in the initial seral stage after tree harvesting, when
trees were absent or present as seedlings less than 5 years old; shrub
layers were sometimes present. Red fescue did not occur at more than
trace frequency at any later seral stage .
Red fescue can be a component of early successional through climax
vegetation where open conditions prevail. In the Mount St. Helens area
of southeastern Washington, red fescue appeared on the surfaces of the
Muddy River mudflows by summer 1981, a year after the eruption of May
18, 1980. Its frequency was 2 percent .
On the west slope of the Cascade Ranges in Linn County, Oregon, red fescue is
a seral dominant in a rockfell community. It is not present in the
crustose lichen (Rhacomitrium lanuginosum), carpet moss (Polytrichum
juniperinum), and clubmoss (Selaginella wallacei) stages of earliest
succession. It is found at the next seral stage as a little more soil
accumulates. It is not found within the bordering closed forest of
noble fir (Abies procera) nor in the shrub community dominated by vine
maple (Acer circinatum) and Sitka alder (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata)
Red fescue occurs in primary succession in several wetland habitats.
Red fescue occurs in subarctic northern Manitoba on the estuary of the
Churchill River. Along the shore of the estuary, extensive riverflats
are being exposed and colonized by vegetation which forms zonation bands
running parallel to the river shoreline. Red fescue is one of the
principal grasses in the youngest closed community on the recently
exposed flats. Red fescue does not occur in any of the four
successively older zones, from shrub to mixed forest . Red fescue
is a component of the earthquake-uplifted coastal wetlands of the Copper
River Delta of south-central Alaska. Red fescue is a major grass on wet
meadow levees and in inter-levee basins .
Terraces of the McKinley River occur on the north slope of the Alaska
Range in the central section of Denali National Park. These terraces
are of different ages and in different stages of succession, but they
are composed of similar extremely coarse glacial outwash. Red fescue
does not occur in the pioneer stage, on terraces which are 25 to 30
years old. It does occur in the meadow stage (on 100-year-old terraces)
and in the early shrub stage (on 150- to 200-year-old terraces). It
does not occur in the late shrub stage nor in the climax tundra .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Red fescue starts growth early in spring, generally slows in mid-summer,
and grows vigorously from late summer until freezing .
Red fescue flowering times are:
Arizona July-August 
California May-July 
Colorado July-September 
Illinois June-July 
Montana June-August 
North Carolina May-June 
South Carolina May-June 
West Virginia April-June 
Wyoming July-September 
United States June-August 
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Red fescue probably sprouts from rhizomes after aerial portions are
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Red fescue culms and leaves are probably killed by fire.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
No information was available on short-term response of red fescue to
A wildfire on the border of northern British Columbia and Yukon
Territory burned 19,768 acres (8,000 ha) over a 13-day period in July
1988. The dominant tree species were lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta)
and black spruce (Picea mariana) which were about 120 years old. By the
fifth postfire year, red fescue was the only herb on the wet lower slope
providing more than 1 percent cover, although it had spotty
distribution. Red fescue was present only in trace amounts at other
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
The Research Project Summary Vegetation change in grasslands and heathlands
following multiple spring, summer, and fall prescription fires in Massachusetts
provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community
species, including red fescue, that was not available when this species review
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Red fescue can be used to revegetate burns. Red fescue was broadcast
seeded on November 1, 1944, on a burned area near Priest River, Idaho.
Elevation was 2,500 feet (762 m). The area had been covered with
Douglas-fir, western larch (Larix occidentalis), and grand fir (Abies
grandis). After seeding, plots were fenced; light grazing was allowed
after 1945. Red fescue established fair to excellent stands. Red
fescue prevented brush encroachment, and ponderosa pine (Pinus
ponderosa) seedlings were abundant by 1955. By 1960 trees dominated
the seeded area and few grasses or legumes were left .
Red fescue and other seeds were used to revegetate burned land in the
Peace River region of northern Canada. Wildfires burned 1,000,000 acres
(404,700 ha) of wooded land in September 1950. Following the fire,
depth of ash ranged from 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm). Seeding was done
in October 1950 and in early April the following spring. Snow covered
the ash at both seeding times and the burned soil and debris were
disturbed as little as possible. Time of seeding did not influence the
establishment of red rescue. Percent ground cover was determined in the
first and fifth growing seasons after seeding. Red fescue cover varied
from 72 to 83 percent in 1952 and from 17 to 80 percent in 1955 .
Discussion of effects of seeding after fire on recovery of other native
species is not available in the literature. Since red fescue can
outcompete other native species on disturbed sites in both temperate and
arctic communities [15,89], it may also do so on burned sites.
The red fescue cultivar "Clatsop" was selected from native vegetation on
the coastal dunes of Oregon. "Clatsop" grows during the summer as well
as during the cooler seasons; this continued growth reduces the hazard
of wildfires on dunes .
Red fescue seed-producing fields can be burned after harvest to kill
weed seeds, discourage diseases and harmful insects, and prevent red
fescue stands from becoming too thick . For successful burning,
soil and sod should be dry and the plants in semidormancy. Weather
should be hot and dry, with enough wind to produce a quick, thorough
fire. Flammable material should be well distributed to prevent hot
spot fires. Burning should be done each year; old, thick sods burn
slowly and with too much heat for plant survival [34,88].
SPECIES: Festuca rubra
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