Plate 12; Seed, Plate 26, Fig. 20.
Other Latin name: Festuca pratensis Huds.
Other English names: English Blue Grass, Evergreen Grass, Randall Grass.
Much confusion has resulted from the two Latin names for this grass. Festuca elatior means Tall Fescue, and Festuca pratensis means Meadow Fescue. Seedsmen generally term Tall Fescue Festuca elatior and Meadow Fescue Festuca pratensis, thus supporting the widely spread opinion that Tall Fescue and Meadow Fescue are two botanically distinct plants. This is not the case. They are merely agricultural varieties of one plant, the correct Latin name of which is Festuca elatior L., just as Banner and Abundance are two agricultural varieties of oats, Avena sativa L.
Botanical description: Meadow Fescue is perennial with long, strong roots. It has rather short rootstocks and is therefore tufted but not so much as Orchard Grass. The stems, which are from eighteen to thirty-six inches high, are smooth and rather slender. Most of the leaves are produced by numerous sterile shoots from the rootstocks, the stems carrying only a few. The leaves are dark green, rather long and broad, weak in texture and often overhanging. They are rolled up in the bud, and the young shoots are therefore round and not flattened, as in Orchard Grass, where the young leaves are folded together along the middle line. The flowers are in a panicle, with two branches of different size from each joint. The branches spread only during flowering time; before and after, the panicle is narrow, with erect branches. Brome and other grasses have panicles similar to that of Meadow Fescue. The latter is recognized by the nodding panicle at the top and the branches turned toward one side. The spikelets are oblong and often with a touch of violet. One contains seven or eight flowers, each enclosed within two glumes which are smooth and slightly rounded. When flowering, the stamens and pistil appear at the same time. There is therefore a chance for both self- and cross-fertilization.
Geographical distribution: Meadow Fescue is indigenous to Europe up to the polar circle and in the temperate parts of Asia.
Plate 12 MEADOW FESCUE (Festuca elation L).
It was introduced into North America, probably from England where its cultivation began about 1820.
Habitat: As indicated by its name, Meadow Fescue is a common grass in meadows in the Old World; it also grows naturally in waste places, along roadsides, railways and river banks.
Cultural conditions: It does especially well in soil rich in organic matter. It is well adapted to clay, although perhaps not so well as Orchard Grass, and it can be successfully grown on sandy land if sufficient moisture is available and the soil is not too shallow. It is better fitted for medium wet soil than is Orchard Grass, especially in a pasture, as it stands tramping better. On the other hand, on account of its rather deep root system, it is fairly resistant to drought. Generally speaking, Meadow Fescue will grow on almost any soil, provided it is reasonably moist and not too poor. As it stands cold remarkably well, it might be used to advantage in many parts of Canada.
Habits of growth: If sown with other grasses or with Red Clover, Meadow Fescue is rather slow in growth, reaching full development the second or third year after sowing. If sown alone, a good catch may be secured the first year. It keeps its yielding power for many seasons, especially when given a light top-dressing of manure once a year. It starts growth early and is ready to cut about the same time as Orchard Grass or a few days later.
Agricultural value: Hay from Meadow Fescue is somewhat inferior to that from Orchard Grass. The nutritive value is highest when the grass is in flower and it should therefore be cut when in full bloom or a little earlier. If left until flowering is over, the stems get hard and woody, losing their nutritive value rapidly and becoming unpalatable. After cutting, the grass quickly recovers, giving ? fair second growth, principally of leaves from the basal shoots. It is therefore valuable for summer and fall pasture, especially as it stands tramping well and does not get bunchy as does Orchard Grass.
Meadow Fescue is a fairly good milk producer but its chief value is for fattening cattle. It should not be used alone for driving horses as it is slightly laxative. Like Orchard Grass, it should be grown with other forage plants; with Red Clover and Timothy, for instance, it considerably increases the feeding value of the mixture. When sown alone for hay or pasture, forty to forty-five pounds of good seed should be used to the acre.
Seed: Growing Meadow Fescue for seed is quite a profitable business. The cost of labour is small, as heavy crops can be taken from the same field for at least three years. Besides the value of the seed secured, there is an additional income from the second growth, as it can be pastured without injuring the seed crop the following year, provided the pasturing is not too close or continued too late in the fall. The crop should be cut when the panicles begin to turn brown and the whole field looks like ripening grain. The seed easily shatters out if cut too late, and this tendency makes it necessary to handle the crop very carefully after cutting. What has been said about curing and threshing Orchard Grass seed applies also to Meadow Fescue.
Quality of seed: Good commercial seed is of a rather dull greyish brown colour. It keeps its vitality for only a comparatively short time; it is not advisable to use seed more than three years old. When sown for seed, ten to fifteen pounds should be used to the acre. The weight per bushel varies from twelve to twenty-six pounds.
Diseases: Meadow Fescue is sometimes affected by rust. This does not usually appear until the crop is cut for seed, when it may damage the aftermath to such an extent as to spoil not only the pasture but the next year's seed crop, by weakening the plants and preventing them from coming through the winter in good condition.