Tall fescue: Festuca arundinacea

Tall fescue is a cool-season perennial grass native to Europe.  Its area of distribution and adaptation in North America has made it one of the most widely used cultivars.

Characteristics of Tall fescue


  • Well adapted to the transition zone
  • Grows on a wide range of soils, but grows best on loams and clay loams.
  • Grows on soils that have a pH varying from acidic (4.5) to alkaline (9)
  • It is very tolerant of moisture stress, especially when 2-4 inches of leaf area is remaining
  • Exhibits good shade tolerance


Classified as a bunch-type grass, Tall fescue has short rhizomes that form a dense sod.  It can reach a height of 2-3 feet and has one reproductive cycle per year. This means it will only produce a seed head, once a year. The growth pattern of tall fescue extends from late winter through fall with some growth when temperatures are in the 40˚ F range.  When temperatures are above 86˚ F, Tall fescue will not grow much.


Common uses for tall fescue include haying, grazing, turf, and reclamation projects.

Problems with Tall fescue?


  • Most wild-growing tall fescue is naturally infected with a fungal endophyte, which is toxic to grazing animals.
  • The toxic element is concentrated in the seedhead, stem, and leaf sheath.
  • Fescue can also be susceptible to nitrate accumulation under conditions of high nitrogen fertilization
  • Leaf-blades of tall fescue can be very coarse and unpalatable to livestock causing refused forage 


(traditional, coarse Tall fescue)


The Endophyte Life Cycle

  1. Endophyte is a fungus found in seed
  2. As the seed germinates, the endophyte grows into the emerging shoot
  3. It stays in the base of the plant
  4. In spring, as stems form, the endophyte grows up into the new seed


Improved Tall fescue Varieties

There are many improved types of tall fescues on the market that offer characteristics like increased persistence, higher yields, and beneficial endophytes that only help the plant.  One of the most significant improvements to tall fescue has come from our breeding program in the development of a soft-leaf tall fescue such as BarOptima PLUS E34 and STF-43.  Soft leaf fescue has less lignin in the plant, making it more palatable and digestible to the animal.  This improvement has allowed producers to reap the benefits of tall fescue (high yield, widely adaptable, persistency) coupled with a better forage, improving their animal performance. 


(Improved Soft-leaf Tall fescue)