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Tall Fescue

Tall FescueTall fescue is currently found throughout the U.S. It is a valuable grass species because it can grow in a variety of soil and climatic conditions. Since the 1940's, it has been used for forage, turf and erosion control. Tall fescue is distributed throughout Georgia. Although it prefers cool growing conditions, tall fescue will tolerate hot summers. In addition, this plant is tolerant of both drought and poorly drained areas.

Plant Description: Tall fescue is a coarse, clump-forming, cool-season perennial grass, characterized by its relatively wide, dark green, coarsely ridged leaves. This species reproduces by seeds and short rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Clumps can expand by producing new shoots (tillers) from the base of existing stems. Tall fescue can form dense stands.

Tall Fescue seedlingTall fescue produces short rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) and tough, coarse roots that run deep into the soil.  Stems are smooth, erect and round, and grow 3 to 5 feet high. Leaves are rolled in the bud. The dark green leaf blade (free part of the leaf) is thick, flat, ridged on the upper surface due to coarse veins, and shiny on the lower surface. Blades are 4 to 24 inches long and 1/6 to 1/2 inch wide, and have rough margins and often a yellowish base (where it meets the stem). The leaf sheath (part of the leaf surrounding the stem) is round and smooth. The ligule (projection inside on the top of the sheath) is short and membranous. A pair of small, rounded appendages (auricles) are located at the top of the sheath, and are fringed with hairs. Clusters of flowers are borne in an open, many-branched flower head (2 to 12 inches long, sometimes up to 16 inches) at the top of the stem. Branches of the flower head are folded up against the stem before and after flowering, giving the flower head a spike-like appearance. Flowering occurs between May and June. Tall fescue clumps can enlarge by tillering (producing new shoots from the base of stems).

Tall fescue is one of the most widely adapted weeds. Studies suggest that the endophytic fungus infecting many varieties of tall fescue makes the grass more drought tolerant, as well as potentially toxic to nearby plant species (allelopathic), thus allowing tall fescue to replace native plant communities.

Tall fescue is often infected with an endophytic ("living within the plant") fungus that produces compounds toxic to cattle and horses. Cattle grazing on tall fescue may develop several conditions, including "fescue foot, fescue toxicosis ("summer slump"), and abdominal fat necrosis. Toxins are present in infected fescue throughout all seasons, and persist in hay as well. Tall fescue may also contribute to hay fever.

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