Idaho Fescue

Percy Folkard, BC FLNR
Scientific name: 

Festuca idahoensis Elmer

Native Grass
Annual precip. min (mm): 
Annual precip. max (mm): 
Seed size: 
PR Suitability note: 
Idaho fescue is not typically found in native plant communities in the Peace Region.
Key considerations: 
Idaho fescue has some potential for erosion control, although it is not easy to establish. Suitable for use with other native species. Important forage for livestock and wildlife.
General Description: 

Idaho fescue is a densely tufted, native perennial bunchgrass. It is an important component of late successional upper grassland plant communities in southern British Columbia, and is common throughout the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The recognition of Idaho fescue as separate species is questioned by some authors, who consider it a variety of Festuca occidentalis (western fescue). However, it is closely related to the Festuca ovina complex and has long been identified as a separate species.

Roots are fibrous and not rhizomatous. Stems are 30 to 100 cm (12 to 39 in.) tall, densely tufted, and somewhat rough with nodes exposed. Leaf blades are numerous, 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 in.) long, and stiff when dry. The seed head is narrow, and 10 to 20 cm long (4 to 8 in.). Spikelets are 5 to 7 flowered. Florets have an awn 2 to 4 mm long.

Idaho fescue is native to British Columbia.
Idaho fescue occurs mostly in south-central and southeast regions of the province. It also is found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and most western states.
Habitat and climate: 
Dry to moist grasslands and open forests.
Idaho fescue is an important forage for livestock and native ungulates. It has some potential for rehabilitation and erosion control.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Idaho fescue can be grazed in all seasons. Most of its growth occurs in spring, but it cures well and is palatable to cattle and native ungulates well into fall. It is not preferred by sheep once it matures.
Recovery after use (rating): 
Recovery after use: 
Idaho fescue can withstand grazing of up to 50% of its annual production, but it should not be grazed at the same time each year. It should not be grazed closer than 8 cm (3 in.) to the ground. Complete rest every 2-4 years, or a lower level of utilization (30%) will help maintain vigour and range condition.
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Idaho fescue is considered excellent forage for cattle and good forage for sheep, maintains its forage value late into the season, and is good forage for native ungulates in winter.
Longevity (rating): 
Idaho fescue is long lived.
Persistence (rating): 
Idaho fescue is persistent if grazing is managed.
Invasiveness (rating): 
Idaho fescue is not invasive.
Competitiveness (rating): 
Moderately competitive once established. Does not compete well with aggressive introduced grasses.
Weed resistance (rating): 
Weed resistance: 
Weed resistance is dependent on germination. Where germination is satisfactory, Idaho fescue can emerge earlier than some annual weeds although seedling vigour is considered low.
Erosion control (rating): 
Erosion control: 
Extensive root system makes it suitable for erosion control once established.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
Drought tolerance: 
Drought tolerance is similar to that of hard fescue.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
Soil texture preference (rating): 
Soil texture preference: 
Prefers silt loam or sandy loam soils.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
Flooding tolerance: 
It is intolerant of flooding.
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance : 
Tolerant of weakly acidic conditions.
Shade tolerance: 
Has moderate shade tolerance
Fire comment: 
Moderate tolerance of fire in the fall, but needs requires 2 to 3 years to recover from burning.
Pests and/or disease threats: 
Primary pests are rodents, grasshoppers, and fungi.
Ease of establishment (rating): 
Ease of establishment: 
Idaho fescue can be difficult to establish and requires 2-3 years to reach a mature stand phase. Germination can be variable, especially with native seed collections. Two cultivars of Idaho fescue (Joseph and Nezpurs) have been developed at the University of Idaho using 3 phases of phenotypic recurrent selection. The population base for the cultivars came from 89 native ecotypes collected from the northwestern U.S. and Canada. Both exhibit better germination and establishment characteristics than the source collections.
Application requirements: 
Germination will be enhanced with drill seeding, but this may not be practical or desirable depending on the context. Late fall seeding is recommended.
Suggested mixtures: 
Normally recommended as a component in seed mixtures with other native species.
Management considerations: 
Idaho fescue decreases with overgrazing. Deferred grazing is beneficial for maintaining Idaho fescue and can provide late fall and winter forage for wildlife.