This perennial grass forms a dense tuft of leafy shoots about
¾-2' tall. Most of these shoots are sterile, producing only basal
leaves, while fertile shoots produce leafy culms terminating in
inflorescences. The slender culms are light green,
terete, glabrous to slightly scabrous (rough-textured), and
unbranched. Most of the leaves are located along the lower one-third of
each culm, where they are alternate. The blades of both basal leaves
and lower alternate leaves
are 2½-8" long and 0.5-1.0 mm. across; they are filiform (narrowly
appearance and rather stiff in texture because of their inrolled
margins. The leaf blades are
either smooth or slightly scabrous, and they are yellowish green,
bluish green, or bright green. The basal sheaths are light tan to
purple (depending on their age) and usually persist for one year or
more. Other sheaths are some shade of pale green and either smooth or
slightly scabrous. Sometimes 1-2 leaves occur along the upper
two-thirds of each culm; they are similar to the lower leaves, except
smaller in size (¾-2½" in length).
Each culm terminates in a panicle of
spikelets about 1½-4" long. This inflorescence is either erect or
slightly nodding. The central stalk of the inflorescence is slender,
angular, and scabrous. At intervals along its length, there are erect
to ascending branchlets about ¾-1½" long. The spikelets congregate
toward the tips of these branchlets. Each spikelet has 4-7 florets and
their lemmas; they are organized into 2 overlapping ranks. At the
bottom of each spikelet, there is a pair of sterile glumes. One glume
is 2.0-3.5 mm. in length, while the other glume is 3.5-5.0 mm. in
length. Both glumes are linear-lanceolate in shape with convex outer
sides. The lemmas are 4-5 mm. in length and linear-lanceolate in shape
with convex outer sides; the tip of each lemma has an awn about 1-2 mm.
in length. Both the glumes and lemmas are smooth to slightly scabrous;
they are pale green while immature, becoming light tan at maturity.
Each floret has an ovary with a pair of feathery
stigmata and 3 stamens. The blooming period occurs from late spring to
lasting about 2 weeks. The florets are cross-pollinated by the wind.
Afterwards, the florets are replaced by elongated grains about 2-3 mm.
in length. The root system is fibrous.
preference is full sun, dry conditions, and a sterile soil containing
sand or gravel. However, this grass will also tolerate a limited amount
of shade and more moist conditions, if drainage is adequate.
The non-native Hard Fescue is widely
Illinois, where it is relatively uncommon (see Distribution
grass was originally introduced into North America from Eurasia as a
source of forage. Habitats consist of sand dunes, gravelly areas along
railroads, roadside embankments, pastures, and sterile waste areas.
Areas with a history of disturbance are preferred.
Such insects as Oulema melanopus
(Cereal Leaf Beetle),
the leaf beetle Psylliodes
Billbug), and Blissus
(Hairy Chinch Bug) feed on Hard
Fescue and other Fescue
(Fescue Grasses). In addition,
caterpillars of the skipper Atalopedes
(Sachem) and the moth
(Larger Sod Webworm) feed on these grasses. Cattle,
sheep, and other domesticated farm animals will browse on the foliage
of this grass
when it is available in pastures. The seeds may be eaten by some upland
gamebirds and songbirds, however specific information about this is
currently unavailable for Illinois and other states of the Midwest.
A sand dune at the Oak Openings Nature Preserve
in NW Ohio.
This grass can be identified by its dense tufts of stiff leaves. It is
one of the few grasses in Illinois that has filiform leaf blades with
margins. In Illinois, there are two other species in the Festuca
that share these characteristics: Festuca
and Festuca rubra
(Red Fescue). In general, Slender Fescue is a more
petite grass with smaller lemmas (2.5-3.5 mm. in length) that lack
Like Hard Fescue, it prefers habitats that are relatively dry and
sterile. In contrast, Red Fescue is somewhat larger in size than Hard
Fescue and its leaf blades are less stiff. Red Fescue has taller culms
(up to 3' tall, although they often lean sideways) and its
inflorescence tends to be longer (2-8" long). The taxonomic history of
Hard Fescue is rather complex as it has a variety of scientific
synonyms. In both the past and the present, Hard Fescue has been
referred to as Festuca
(as used here), Festuca brevipila
, Festuca stricta
It has also been lumped together with Festuca ovina
(Sheep Fescue); this latter grass apparently does not occur in
Illinois. Sheep Fescue is supposed to have gray-green or bluish
leaves that are even more narrow and stiff than those of Hard Fescue.
It is also a slightly smaller grass (½-1½' tall) with a shorter
inflorescence (¾-2½" long), otherwise it is very similar to Hard
Fescue. There is a popular cultivar of Sheep Fescue that has glaucous
blue leaves; it is often referred to as Festuca ovina glauca