The Grass Guide: Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is a very hardy forage able to withstand high summer temperatures, drought, moisture stress, and shade.
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The Grass Guide: Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is a very hardy forage able to withstand high summer temperatures, drought, moisture stress, and shade. | Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Name: Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Life cycle: Cool-season perennial
Native to: Europe
Uses: Pasture and hay
Identification: Leaves are sharp, pointed, and rough to the touch, and almost seem to cup the stem at their origin.

Tall fescue is a very hardy forage able to withstand high summer temperatures, drought, moisture stress, and shade. The traditional variety KY-31+ is infected with a fungal endophyte, which produces the toxin ergovaline in the seed head, leaf, and stem of the plant. Ergovaline can cause agalactia (decreased or no milk), dystocia (slow or difficult labor or delivery), and prolonged gestation in broodmares. The endophyte provides tall fescue greater tolerance to overgrazing and harsh conditions. Endophyte-free varieties are available, but these plants tend to be less hardy than their infected counterparts. Novel or “friendly endophyte” varieties are now available that do not produce ergovaline, but show improved plant survival.

Krista Lea, MS, is research analyst and coordinator of the UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program within the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences

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