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Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Tall fescue  (Festuca arundinacea)

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Life stages of Tall fescue Image flower headcollar and sheathspikelets and florets spikelets

Tall fescue, a cool season perennial grass, forms clumps with upright leaves. It is found throughout California, except the Great Basin and deserts, to about 8900 feet (2700 m). Tall fescue is especially invasive in coastal scrub and grassland on the North and Central Coast. It also inhabits other disturbed dry or wet areas. It is widely planted for pasture, turf, hay, and erosion control, but has escaped cultivation. New tall fescue turf cultivars may be less invasive. Sometimes tall fescue is infected with a fungus, Acremonium coenophialum. Livestock that graze on pasture infected with this fungus exhibit a wide variety of chronic health problems.


Coastal scrublands, grasslands, pastures, roadsides, ditches, and other disturbed dry or wet locations.


Seedling leaf blades are rolled in the bud before they open and are hairless and conspicuously veined. The collar is pale and contains a membranous ligule and auricles with hairy-edged lobes, or no lobes.

Mature plant

Tall fescue grows in clumps and can reach 6-1/2 feet (2 m) tall. Stems are coarse, round in cross-section, and have visible stem joints (nodes). Leaves are rolled, loosely rolled, or flat before they open from the bud. Blades are up to 2/5” (1 cm) wide, 4 to 28 inches (10–70 cm) long, dark green, slightly glossy, coarse, with rasplike edges, and radiate from a central clump. Although similar in appearance to dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum, tall and meadow fescues are distinguished by growing in tighter clumps, versus the loose bunches formed by dallisgrass.

Collar region

Ligules are membranous. Auricles have lobes with hairy edges, or no lobes.


Flowers bloom from May through June. The flowering head is open and branching. Stalked, purple-tinged spikelets attach along the flowering branches. Flower head stalks may lay flat when mowed, resulting in ragged-looking turf.


Reproduces by seed and sometimes by underground, creeping, horizontal stems (rhizomes) fragments that result from activities such as cultivation and movement of soil.

Related or similar plants

  • Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  • Meadow fescue, Festuca pratensis Huds.

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