Festuca subverticillata (Nodding Fescue)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; rich woods, moist depressions, thickets, wooded slopes, hardwood swamps
Fruiting season:June - August
Plant height:20 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle

[scan of flowering panicle] Loose branching cluster at the top of the stem, 4 to 10 inches long with 1 to 3 branches per node. Branches are initially erect to ascending, the whole panicle typically nodding to one side at flowering time. Two to several stalked spikelets (flower clusters) are arranged near the tip of each branch. Spikelets are 5 to 8 mm (to ~1/3 inch) long, somewhat flattened with 2 to 5 florets; the floret at the tip is typically sterile.

[close-up of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both hairless, lance-elliptic, pointed at the tip, shorter than the spikelet and lack awns, the lower glume 2.5 to 3.5 mm long and 1-veined, the upper glume as long as or slightly longer than the lower glume and 3-veined. Surrounding a floret are a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma thicker than the glumes, 3.5 to 5 mm long, as long as or slightly longer than the upper glume, weakly 5-veined, oblong-elliptic, blunt to pointed at the tip, hairless and awnless; the palea is 2-nerved and about as long as the lemma. Sterile florets are similar to fertile florets, but underdeveloped.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of shiny leaves] Leaves are 4 to 10 inches long, 3 to 10 mm (to 3/8 inch) wide, mostly hairless or with a few scattered hairs, smooth to slightly rough, mostly flat with 9 to 35 veins, the midvein most prominent. The upper surface is shiny dark green, the lower dull green.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath is hairless to sparsely hairy, the edges fused at the front for less than 1/3 of their length (a closed sheath), forming a long, narrow "V" on the front. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is .5 to 1 mm long, ragged along the top edge and lacks a fringe of hair. Nodes are hairless. Stems are hairless, single or multiple from the base forming clumps, erect to prostrate.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed_without_plume

[photo of mature florets] The panicle branches become more spreading to descending as spikelets mature, turning greenish-brown to straw-colored. Florets drop off individually as the mature, leaving the glumes persisting on the stalk. Grains (seeds) are brown, oval-elliptic.


Nodding Fescue is a common grass found across most of Minnesota, usually in mesic hardwood forest. It is not a very stand-out species with its usually wispy panicle and sometimes sprawling stems. It is distinguished by the shiny and veiny leaves, sheaths closed towards the base, hairless ligule not more than 1 mm long, the usually nodding panicle with lower branches becoming spreading to descending at maturity, 2 to several spikelets towards a branch tip, spikelets 5 to 8 mm long with 2 to 5 florets that are all awnless and hairless. The leaves and/or sheaths can be hairless or sparsely covered in long white hairs.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water

More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore County and in his garden.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Erin Faulkner - Beltrami Co, near Pimushe Lake
on: 2020-10-15 19:21:51

Found along a roadside in Beltrami Co; the distribution maps do not currently show records for this county. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/56254220#activity_identification_136646929

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.