Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Festuca rubra
Red fescue specimen, showing short rhizomes. ©2014 Phil Pullen.


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: [].
ABBREVIATION : FESRUB SYNONYMS : Festuca rubra subsp. secunda var. mediana Pavlick [45] = Festuca rubra subsp. mediana (Pavlick) Pavlick, red fescue [79] Festuca rubra subsp. commutata Gaudin [45] = Festuca rubra subsp. falax Thuill. Festuca rubra subsp. rubra var. planifolia Hack. = Festuca rubra var. planifolia Hack. [79] NRCS PLANT CODE [79] : FERU2 FERUA6 FERUA3 FERUA FERUF3 FERUM8 FERUP5 FERUR2 FERUS FERUV FERUP3 COMMON NAMES : red fescue Richardson's fescue Chewing's fescue TAXONOMY : 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 : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


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 [41], Europe [46,53], Africa [41,56], Asia [59,67], and New Zealand [41]. ECOSYSTEMS : Red fescue occurs in most ecosystems. STATES : 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 classifications: A digitized computer-compatible classification for natural and potential vegetation in the Southwest with particular reference to Arizona [9] Coastal prairie and northern coastal scrub [37] Plant association and management guide: Willamette National Forest [38] Plant associations of the Fremont National Forest [43]


SPECIES: Festuca rubra
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Red fescue is a valuable forage grass [74]. 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 [66]. 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 [35]. 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 [40]. PALATABILITY : In Alberta red fescue palatability is rated fair for livestock [71]. In Utah it is rated good for cattle and horses and fair for sheep [17]. 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 [75]. 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 [61]. 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 [71]. 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 [17]. 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 [8]. COVER VALUE : In Utah red fescue cover is rated fair for small nongame birds and small mammals [17]. 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 [68]. 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 areas [57]. In areas with temperate climate, red fescue is used to prevent erosion on irrigation ditches [5], in channel banks on waterways [29], and along highway and railway rights-of-way [71]. It is useful for holding hillsides and highway slopes [74]. It is also planted for soil conservation in the western states [20]. 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 [61]. 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 [89]. 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 [10]. 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 [6]. 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 [16], the Alaska Range [19], the central Brooks Range [15], 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 [15]. 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 [24]. 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 orchards [88]. Red fescue can cause hayfever [17]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Red fescue is a decreaser in response to excessive grazing [84] or site disturbance [43]. 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 [71]. Many cultivars of red fescue are available commercially [20]. 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 [86]. Red fescue root leachates have been shown to inhibit root and shoot growth of shrubs [15].


SPECIES: Festuca rubra
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Red fescue is a cool-season [83], 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 [56]; 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 [1]. Red fescue is long lived in northern latitudes and at high elevations. It can form dense cover [83]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Hemicryptophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Red fescue reproduces by seeds and spreads vegetatively [17]. 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 [21]; 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 [13]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Red fescue occurs on dry to wet sites [17,30] in open habitats [26] from sea level to high elevations [39]. 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 [85], bogs, and marshes [30,41]. It occurs in mountain meadows and clearings [42]. It is found in fields, on roadsides [62,85], and on disturbed sites [58]. 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 [71]. Red fescue is somewhat tolerant of salinity [71]; in a saltmarsh in Britain, red fescue occurred on the most elevated, least salty areas [12]. 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 [14]. In Denali National Park red fescue grows on soil with pH 5.7 to 6.0 at the 2-inch (5 cm) level [82]. Lower pH limit for red fescue is 4.5 [83]. Red fescue is reported at the following elevations: Feet Meters Alaska 1,300- 3,000 396- 914 [19,82] Arizona 8,500-11,000 2,591-3,353 [46] 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 [17] Oregon 3,700- 8,000 1,128-2,438 [2,38,43] Utah 4,500- 9,300 1,372-2,835 [17] Wyoming 8,000 2,438 [17] 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 [54]. 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 [50]. 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 [31]. 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) [2]. 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 [64]. 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 [76]. 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 [82]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Red fescue starts growth early in spring, generally slows in mid-summer, and grows vigorously from late summer until freezing [71]. Red fescue flowering times are: Arizona July-August [46] California May-July [59] Colorado July-September [17] Illinois June-July [58] Montana June-August [17] North Carolina May-June [62] South Carolina May-June [62] West Virginia April-June [74] Wyoming July-September [17] northeastern United States June-August [23]


SPECIES: Festuca rubra
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Red fescue probably sprouts from rhizomes after aerial portions are burned. 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 Tussock graminoid


SPECIES: Festuca rubra
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Red fescue culms and leaves are probably killed by fire. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : No information was available on short-term response of red fescue to fire. 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 sites [60]. 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 was written. 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 [70]. 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 [3]. 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 [29]. 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 [34]. 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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