Festuca arizonica Vasey 

by Peter A. Jolma, Native Plants of Arizona 2007
Common names:
Arizona fescue, pinegrass, mountain bunchgrass (20).
Family: Poaceae or Gramineae (14)).
Synonymy:  Festuca arizonica  (3)
Etymology: “Fescue” is an alteration of Middle English “festu,” meaning “straw,” from Old French, from Late Latin “festucum,” from Latin “festuca” (19).  The species was named by George Vasey (1822-1893).  The type is from Flagstaff, collected in 1887 (23).  Vasey was a physician and self-trained botanist who accompanied John Wesley Powell on the Colorado River Expedition of 1868 (18). He later became the Director of the United States National Herbarium at the Smithsonian (17).  Vasey”s Paradise near Mile 32 in the Grand Canyon was named by Powell after his botanist (21). 

Growth form:
A clumping bunchgrass, greenish-yellow to blue-green, mostly 45 to 90 cm. tall.  Seedheads densely tufted. (3,7,12)
Roots: Dense, coarse, and fibrous.  Without rhizomes.  Root depth 25 cm. (3)
Stem: Culms wiry and fibrous when mature (7).
Leaves: Blades involute and filiform with ascending branches.  Blades 15 - 50 cm., branches 7 – 20 cm.  Firm, glaucous, and pointed with rolled edges.  Internodes pubescent.  Ligules ciliate.  (7,11,20)
Inflorescence/flowers: Panicle narrow, 8 – 15 cm. long.  Spikelets 8 – 12 mm. long with 4 – 6 florets, disarticulating above the glumes and between the florets.  Glumes narrow and lanceolate, unequal, margins ciliate, 3 – 4.8 mm.  Lemmas 5 – 7 mm. long, glabrous or scabrous, awnless or with very short (2 mm. or less) awns.  (20)
Fruit:  Apical pubescent ovary.  Caryopsis 3-5 mm. long. (20)
Similar species:  F. idahoensis.   F. ovina.  Features differentiating F. idahoensis from F. arizonica include shorter non-glaucous blades, lemma awns over 2 mm., and glabrous culm internodes and ovaries in the former (7,20).  Features differentiating F. ovina from F. Arizonica include shorter stature (8-30 cm; occasionally up to 60 cm), a more contracted spike-like panicle, and a higher elevation distribution (7000-12600 feet,) in the former (3,7,12) 

Life history: Perennial bunch grass
Native/introduced: Native to the Southwestern United States. Perennial.  (3,7,8)
Photosynthetic pathway: C3 grass
Phenology: Tends to flower after monsoon rains (9). Florets mature June – August (16). 
Distribution: Commonly found from 7000 to 10000 (3,7,10). In pine forests and high elevation meadows in Coconino, Apache, Yavapai, Greenlee, Graham, Gila, Mohave, and Pima counties (3,7,22).  Found also in southern Nevada, southeastern Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and western Texas (22).

Uses:  Eaten by all classes of livestock, especially cattle and horses. Medium palatability.  Because of its relative abundance, it provides a large amount of the forage in northern Arizona. Medium protein potential. Exhibits green growth during spring, summer, and fall.  Sensitive to overgrazing and reseeds poorly. (10,15,20).


1. Brown, L.  1979. Grasses, An Identification Guide.  Houghton Mifflin Company.  New York, N.Y.  (general reference)

2.  Clark, L.G. and Pohl, R.W. 1996.  Agnes Chase’s First Book of Grasses.  Smithsonian Institution Press.  Washington, D.C.  (general reference)

3.  McDougal, W.B. 1973.  Seed Plants of Northern Arizona. The Museum of Northern Arizona.  Flagstaff, Arizona.

4. Hitchcock, A.S. (revised by A. Chase). 1971.  Manual of the Grasses of the United States, Volumes One and Two.  Dover Publications, Inc.  New York, N.Y.  (general reference)

5. The Nature Conservancy, c. 2005.  The Importance of Grasslands in Northern Arizona.

6.  Harrington, H.D. 1977  How to Identify Grasses and Grasslike Plants.  Swallow Press/Ohio University Press.  Athens, OH.

7.  Gould, F.W. 1951.  Grasses of the Southwestern United States.  University of Arizona Press.  Tucson, AZ.

8. Busco, J and Morin, N.R. 2003 Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens.  Fulcrum Publishing.  Golden, CO.

9.  Hogan, P., Huisinga, K., and Kampe, K.  2005.  An Annotated Catalogue of the Native and Naturalized Flora of Arizona.  Arizona Ethnobotannical Research Association.  Flagstaff, AZ.

10.  USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS database (http://plants.usda.gov, 26 September 2007).  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA

11.  Moyer, W. and Deaver Herbarium staff.  2005.  Vascular Plants of the San Francisco Peaks Area.  Northern Arizona University.  Flagstaff, AZ.

12.  Springer, J. et. al. 2005 (draft).  Plants of Northern Arizona Forests.  Ecological Restoration Institute and Northern Arizona University.  Flagstaff, AZ.

13.  Brown, D.E. 1994.  Biotic Communities.  Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico.  University of Utah Press.  Salt Lake City, UT.

14.  Walters, D.R., Keil, D.J., and Murrel, Z.E.  2006.  Vascular Plant Taxonomy.  Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.  Dubuque, IA.

15.  Humphrey, R. R.  1970.  Arizona Range Grasses.  The University of Arizona Press.  Tucson, AZ.

16.  Landscaping with Native Plants.  Natural Vegetation Committee, Arizona Chapter, Soil Conservation Society of America. 1978.  The University of Arizona Press.  Tucson, AZ.

17.  Pennington, S.J. October – December 2004. The Plant Press.  Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  Washington, D.C.

18.  Collins, E.  Winter 2001.  Searching for Doctor Vasey.  Chicago Wilderness Magazine.  Chicago, IL.

19.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.  Third Edition.  1992.  Houghton Mifflin Company.  New York, N.Y.

20. Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., McJannet, C.L. and Consaul, L.L.  1996 onwards.  Festuca of North America: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. Version: 19th October 2005 (http/::delta-intkey.com).

21.  Stevens, L. 1995. The Colorado River in Grand Canyon.  Red Lake Books.  Flagstaff, AZ.

22.  Utah State University. Festuca arizonica.  In Flora of North America Editorial Committee 1993+. Manual of Grasses of North America project.  Flora of North America North of Mexico.  New York and Oxford.  Online Vol. 24 (http://herbarium.usu.webmanual/)

23.  Kearney, T.H. and Peebles, R.H.  1951 with Supplement 1960.  Arizona Flora.  University of California Press.  Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.