California Native Grasslands Association
Promoting, preserving, and restoring the diversity of California's native grasses and grassland ecosystems through education, advocacy, research, and stewardship.

Red Fescue, Festuca rubra

January 2015

Red fescue is a long-lived perennial, cool season grass with over 200 varieties, many of which were developed for lawn/turf applications. This grass has a very small seed bank, as they generally only produce seed for one or two years then grow primarily through spreading rhizomes. The rhizomes create a sod-like pattern, allowing it to be used as turf for lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, and playgrounds. In nature, this growth pattern stabilizes the soil and reduces invasive (and potentially native) plant establishment. Red fescue is commonly used for stabilizing waterways, slopes, banks, cuts, and fills, however can become weedy or invasive if not managed. It is also used in pastures, because its palatability and nutritional value for livestock is fair however, it is susceptible to over grazing. Plus, some varieties can have endophytes toxic to livestock. It is also grazed by a range of wildlife including deer, elk, moose, snow geese and provides cover for birds and small mammals.

Another incredible use of red fescue is for phytoremediation of contaminated soils from mining, energy, and fuel production. Phytoremediation is the use of plants and associated microorganisms to stabilize and reduce contamination in soils, sludges, sediments, surface water, or ground water. In particular, red fescue is able to accumulate copper, lead, manganese and zinc metals from soil and other mediums.

Red fescue does not have “preferred” habitat, as it has a morphologically diverse complex of sub species found in arctic and temperate zones of Asia, Europe, and North America. It can grow in sandy, gravely, pebbly beaches, on coastal or inland meadows, from sea level to 11,000 ft and even at superfund sites. Morphologically the base of stems and spikelets are often reddish and is generally 12-39 in tall. It requires 16 in of annual precipitation and able to grow in partial shade and full sun.


St. John, L., D. Tilley, P. Hunt, and S. Wright. 2012. Plant Guide for Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center, Aberdeen, Idaho 83210.

[USDA] U.S. Department of Agriculture (2009) Purple Needlegrass Nassella pulchra (Hitchc.) Barkworth.
© 2017 California Native Grasslands Association                                                                                                  501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software