Seed, Plate 26, Fig. 19.
Botanical description: Sheep's Fescue is perennial, forming dense tufts. The stems are numerous and slender, more or less angular, and from eight to twenty-four inches high. They are surrounded at their base with numerous secondary shoots, arising from buds within the persisting sheaths of old root leaves. The shoots appear from the mouth of the sheaths, not from their base, as in Red Fescue. For this reason the sheaths are not cut into strips, as in Red Fescue, but are entire, except in their upper part, and the base of the stems is not surrounded by tattered scales and strips. The leaves are very narrow and generally pale green, those of the basal shoots three to four inches long, those of the stem only about an inch. They are rolled up in the bud and persist in this condition even when fully developed. This is the reason why the leaves of Sheep's Fescue always have a bristly appearance. The flowers are in a one-sided panicle, one to four inches long. The branches of the panicle spread during flowering but later become erect so as to give it the appearance of a narrow spike. The spikelets are green, often with a violet tint. Each spikelet contains three or four flowers and each flower is enclosed within two glumes. The outer scale carries a short awn at its top.
Geographical distribution: Sheep's Fescue is indigenous to the Old World, its range extending from England to Japan and from Spitzbergen and Iceland to North Africa and the Himalayas. It is native to Canada and some parts of the United States; many of the cultivated forms, however, have been introduced from Europe where it has been grown since about 1820.
Habitat: It grows naturally in any dry locality - in dry pastures and sandy fields, on rocks, etc., from the seashore to the Alpine region of the mountains. In Europe it is found eight thousand feet above sea level.
Cultural conditions: Sheep's Fescue flourishes on dry and sterile ground where most other grasses cannot get a foothold or, if established, perish from drought and lack of nourishment. It endures practically all the hardships of nature without being seriously damaged and recovers quickly after long periods of suffering. Lack of moisture brings it to a standstill; severe drought may make its sheep's fescue.
Leaves so dry that they break off at the slightest touch; but give the plant a little water and, though seemingly dead, it will immediately make a fresh start.
Habits of growth: It produces a light stand the year it is sown and its yield steadily decreases after the third year. It starts early in the season and keeps on growing until late in the fall.
Agricultural value: It is only of secondary importance as a forage plant and its use is rather limited. On account of its low growth, the leaves being short and crowded near the ground, it cannot be used for hay. Its principal value is as pasture for sheep on poor land where more valuable grasses cannot be successfully grown. The growth being bunchy and the roots rather shallow, it will not stand tramping and should always be mixed with other grasses or clover. If sown with White Clover, for instance, a firm sod is obtained and the clover improves the quality of the pasture.
Seed: Sheep's Fescue is one of the cheapest grasses, the plants being heavy seed producers and the seed easy to harvest. If allowed to get too ripe, the seed scatters. It is ready to cut when the spikelets break up easily.
Quality of seed: Good commercial seed is straw-coloured - a trifle more yellowish, as a rule, than Red Fescue. It weighs from ten to fifteen pounds a bushel.
A herd of beeves, fair oxen and fair kine.
From a fat meadow ground. - Milton, Paradise Lost, 1669.
Each soil hath no liking, of every grain. Nor barley and wheat, is for every vein: Yet know I no country, so barren of soil, But some kind of corn may be gotten with toil.
Thomas Tusser, Five Hundreth Pointes of Husbandrie, 1557-
I have indeed seen many when sowing artificially prepare their seeds, and steep them first in soda and black lees of olive oil, that the produce might be larger in the usually deceptive pods: and that they might be sodden, to hasten their growth, on a fire, however small. I have seen those seeds whose selection much time and labour had been spent, nevertheless degenerating if men did not every year rigorously separate with the hand all the largest specimens. So it is: all things are fated to deteriorate, and, losing their ground, to be borne backwards. - Virgil, Georgia, .37 B.C.