Plants and Animals

Festuca altaica Rough fescue

Key Characteristics

Stout bunch grass of sandy outwash plains and pine barrens of Michigan’s north-central lower peninsula; 50 to 80 cm tall, lower leaf sheaths up to 8.0 cm long, up to 7.0 mm broad, persistent; spikelets with 4 to 6 florets; second glume up to 7.5 mm long; lemmas relatively large at 6.0 to 8.0 mm, strongly scrabrous on back, awnless or with a short awn.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S2S3 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from imperiled to vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alcona 3 2022
Crawford 37 2023
Montmorency 3 2022
Ogemaw 4 2006
Oscoda 18 2023
Otsego 3 2020
Roscommon 2 1954

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


In Michigan, this largely boreal and northern prairie species is limited to the high plains region in the north-central portion of the Lower Peninsula. Found within dry sand prairie, pine barrens and dry open pine woods in sandy outwash plains, especially with jack pine. Occasionally occurs in more disturbed habitats, including red pine plantations, roadsides, and other anthropogenic openings.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Associated Plants

Pale agoseris (Agoseris glauca), shadbush serviceberry (Amelanchier spicata), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), bearberry (Arctostophylos uva-ursi), tufted hairgrass (Avenella flexuosa), Drummond rock cress (Boechera stricta), prairie brome (Bromus kalmii), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica), Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii), reindeer lichen (Cladina spp., bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata), poverty oats (Danthonia spicata), round-fruited panic grass (Dichanthelium sphaerocarpon), prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), prairie hawkweed (Hieracium longipilum), rattlesnake-weed (Hieracium venosum), junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum), hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens), hairy puccoon (L. caroliniense), cow-wheat (Melampyrum lineare), rough-leaved rice-grass (Oryzopsis asperifolia), rice-grass (Piptatheropsis pungens), racemed milkwort (Polygala polygama), sand cherry (Prunus pumila), prairie willow (Salix humilis), false melic (Schizachne purpurascens), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), upland white goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides), smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), and birdfoot violet (Viola pedata).

Management Recommendations

This species is shade-intolerant and requires disturbances, as indicated by improved growth after moderate grazing or fire. Avoid fire suppression. Use prescribed fire to manage habitats where rough fescue occurs. However, since growth commences early in the season, late spring burns should be avoided. Maintenance of openings via other means (mechanical tree and shrub removal) are recommended where necessary. Avoid use of broadcast herbicide in occupied habitat; use conservative direct contact (dabbing, etc.) methods on target woody species only to avoid damaging non-target species. Avoid mechanical soil disturbance, including tilling, disking, or bulldozing. Furrowing and planting over areas with dense jack pine is not recommended, since severe soil disturbance and a dense canopy are detrimental to this species. Avoid mowing and brush-hogging during growing season (engage in these activities prior to flowering or following seed set). Avoid degradation of occupied habitat by restricting use of off-road vehicles and controlling invasive species. Avoid placing staging areas for logging operations or developing roads in occupied habitat.

Survey Methods

Random meander search covers areas that appear likely to have rare taxa, based on habitat and the judgment of the investigator.

  • Meander search

    • Survey Period: From first week of July to second week of October


Survey References

  • Elzinga, C.L., D.W. Salzer, and J.W. Willoughby. 1998. Measuring and Monitoring Plant Populations. The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management, Denver. BLM Technical Reference 1730-1. 477pp.
  • Goff, G.F., G.A. Dawson, and J.J. Rochow. 1982. Site examination for Threatened and Endangered plant species. Environmental Management 6(4): 307-316
  • Nelson, J.R. 1984. Rare Plant Field Survey Guidelines. In: J.P. Smith and R. York. Inventory of rare and endangered vascular plants of California. 3rd Ed. California Native Plant Society, Berkeley. 174pp.
  • Nelson, J.R. 1986. Rare Plant Surveys: Techniques For Impact Assessment. Natural Areas Journal 5(3):18-30.
  • Nelson, J.R. 1987. Rare Plant Surveys: Techniques for Impact Assessment. In: Conservation and management of rare and endangered plants. Ed. T.S. Elias. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. 8pp.

Technical References

  • Darbyshire, S.J., and L.E. Pavlickf. 2007. Festuca. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 24 pp. 389–443.
  • Gleason, H. A., and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Second edition. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. 910pp.
  • Gray, A. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany; eighth ed. Van Nostrand Reinghold, New York. 1632pp.
  • Hitchcock, A. S. 1951. Manual of the Grasses of the United States. Second ed. Revised by A. Chase. U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications 200. 1051pp.
  • Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the vascular plants of Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. 937pp.
  • Swink, F. and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region, 4th ed. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis. 921pp.
  • Voss, E.G., and A.A. Reznicek. 2012. Field Manual of Michigan Flora. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI. 1008 pp.