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Festuca nigrescens

Alpine chewing’s fescue

Festuca nigrescens (Schröter, 1888)


Forms perennial dark green thickets, some young shoots growing intravaginal, short rhizomes, no stolons. Compared to fescue growing in lowlands, the leaves are narrow and wiry.

Culms are 20-55 cm high, slender, erect or geniculate, smooth and glabrous.

Leaf sheaths of young shoots with margins connate for almost their entire length, no lateral auricles apically (leaves have short, rounded auricles), reddish, smooth, at least in the upper part densely pilose with soft hair, basal leaf sheaths disintegrating into fibres.

Leaf blades of young shoots are 5-20 cm long, 0.5-0.7 mm wide, soft, keeled, undersurface smooth and glabrous, only the upper part scabrous, surface with scattered, short hair, cross-section folded in a V-shape, five to seven vascular bundles, on surface five ribs and four grooves.

Inflorescence a panicle, 3-12 cm long, before and after flowering period contracted and dense, slightly nodding, lanceolate shape, green, coated reddish or purple, lateral branches ramify individually from angular main axis. In flowering period expanded, ramified, rough and angular, along the 1-2 mm long rachis.

Three to eight flowered spiklets, up to the top of the fourth floret 7-10 mm long.


In the Alps this species can be found in montane, subalpine and alpine areas. Indifferent to soil type, it can therefore be found on almost any kind of rock. However, it prefers predominantly dry and sunny locations. In moist meadows and pastures it grows less. In the Alps it flourishes at altitudes higher than 2 600 m.

All-purpose high-quality forage in montane to alpine regions; resistant to high nutrients, grazing and cutting.


Fruit of the husk 3.5-6 mm long, 0.5-1 mm wide, 0.5-0.8 mm thick, oblong, acuminate, greyish-yellow to brown, often stained red.

Awn up to 2.5 mm long.

Lemma vaulted, keeled because of midvein, marginal veins indistinct, short hairs on margin and midvein, palea in a hollow, fruit dark brown to red. Keels apically dentate, short.


Rachis 1.2 mm long, straight, slightly expanding, distal surface broadening into a head shape.

Fruit connate, 3.0-4.0 mm long up to 1 mm wide, 0.5 mm thick, apically lanceolate and round, base acuminate, ventrally grooved, dorsally ellipsoid, red to brown.

Thousand seed weight: 0.8-1.2 g.

(soil and climate)

Chewing’s fescue has no special soil requirements. It roots deeply and therefore shows no sensitivity to dryness. It prefers intermediate to highly nutritious soil. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.8. Moist or waterlogged soil, peat, ground that tends to grow weeds and light, dry soil should be avoided. Compared to other alpine plants it is more competitive towards weeds. Nonetheless, locations with a high presence of quack grass, meadow grass and crab grass should be avoided. Cultivation of seeds is possible up to an altitude of 1 000 m.


Open sowing is possible if carried out until the beginning of July or (in mild climates) middle of July.

Seeding below a cover crop in autumn is possible with thin cover crop populations. Cultivation under winter barley is therefore not recommended cover crops in spring are generally unproblematic. Seeding can be carried out underneath various summer cereals and linseed.

Juvenile development is faster in comparison to most other site-specific grasses; nevertheless, seeding should be done immediately after the seeding of the cover crop.

Seed depth: no more than 0.5 cm.

Seed rate: 6-8 kg, depending on experience and cover crop.

Row spacing: broadcast sowing or row spacing of 12-25 cm, depending on the construction of the seeder. The aim should be to grow well-developed and strong single plants.


Chewing’s fescue is generally undemanding. To obtain a satisfactory yield, nutrient supply should be high.

Phosphorus and potassium: on soils with an intermediate phosphorus and potassium content, fertilization with manure (15-20 tonnes/ha) is sufficient. For mineral fertilization 70 kg/ha P2O5 and 80-120 kg/ha K2O are recommended.

Nitrogen: a sufficient supply of nitrogen in autumn guarantees satisfactory tillering. An excessive supply of nitrogen in late spring may cause decreased formation of spermatophores. However, a certain amount of nitrogen is necessary for the formation of seeds and 70-100 kg/ha of Ntotal should be split and applied in autumn and early spring.


Guidelines for the gender Festuca generally apply.

However, since cespitose stands form only a few seeds, densely growing turfs should be thinned in late summer before the second harvest year. Various machines (e.g. disc harrows and grubbers) can be used to stimulate tillering in order to obtain a generous crop.

In well-developed populations, cutting is recommended in the first autumn, but is not necessary in the following one.

Optimal ripeness for harvesting

Removing biomass is usually not necessary. Weed control can be undertaken mechanically. For stands with 25-cm row spacing, a hoe or a brush can be used.

Application of fungicides against rust in late summer of the first harvest year is seldom required.

As for all fescues, selective control of weed grasses is possible. The most intrusive grasses can be eradicated sufficiently without affecting the crop (see Table 3).


Resistance to lodging: high (in small populations) to intermediate (in wellmaintained seed populations with high crop yields).

Shattering tendency: low to intermediate. Where there is a satisfactory nutrient supply, the whole stand lodges after flowering, which strongly reduces the shattering tendency.

Ripeness: because of the low shattering tendency, fixing a time for flailing is not difficult. Culms change colour to yellow and seeds become firm and brown, often stained red. Threshing time is indicated by the number of shattering seeds when a bunch of spikes is beaten against the palm of the hand.

Ripening period: ripeness is to be expected between the middle and end of June, depending on the origin of the plant material, climate and soil conditions.

Harvesting techniques: threshing has proved unproblematic. Seeds have a good seed flow and can be cleaned easily. As for all seeds, immediate and gentle drying is necessary.

Crop yields: between 600 and 1 000 kg/ha in the first year and 400 and 700 kg/ha in the second year, depending on practical experience.

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