Pasture Grasses Identified
|Publication Date:||September 2006|
|Last Reviewed:||19 July 2018|
|History:||Replaces OMAFRA Publication 204, Pasture Grasses Identified|
|Written by:||Jack Kyle, Grazier Specialist/OMAFRA|
Table of Contents
- Smooth Bromegrass
- Meadow Bromegrass
- Orchard Grass
- Reed Canary Grass
- Creeping Red Fescue
- Meadow Fescue
- Tall Fescue
- Meadow Foxtail
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Canada Bluegrass
- Perennial Ryegrass
- Red Top
- Quack Grass
Grasses are an important component of pastures in Ontario. In mixed legume and grass pastures, the grasses reduce the danger from bloat, help to keep weeds out and improve the chances of stands surviving the winter. Grass pastures can supply good yields of quality feed, and the wide selection of grass species means that there is a grass to suit almost any growing condition or management need.
This Factsheet identifies the main grass species that are used in pasture seed mixtures, as well as one weed species - quack grass. Quack grass is a common component in most pastures and is a good source of nutrition before it matures. Agronomic information for the cultivated species can be found in OMAFRA Publication 811, Agronomy Guide for Field Crops.
Figure 1. Leaf Characteristics
Grasses can easily be identified by looking at the leaves, stems and inflorescences (seed heads). The drawings on the following pages show things to check when looking at each of these plant parts.
A leaf consists of 2 parts - the sheath and the blade (see Figure 1).
The sheath is the tubular portion that surrounds the stem or younger growing leaves. The sheath can be:
- split, with margins separate
- split, with margins overlapping
- closed, forming a tube around the stem, with only a small notch on the side opposite to the leaf blade (Figure 2, below).
Figure 2. Sheath types
The blade is the upper, non-clasping part of the leaf. It is usually long and flat but may be slightly folded or rolled lengthwise, and bristle-like (Figure 3, below).
Figure 3. View of the cross-section of a leaf blade.
The tip of the blade can be boat-shaped, or tapered and flat (Figure 4, below).
Figure 4. Leaf tip shapes
The area that divides the sheath and the blade is called the collar (see Figure 1). It can also offer clues to a grass's identity. The collar may be broad or narrow, have a conspicuous midrib or be continuous from one edge of the leaf to the other (Figure 5, below).
Figure 5. Collar types (seen from the back of the leaf blade)
Auricles and Ligules
Two types of appendages may be found on the collar. Auricles are claw-like and project from the sides of the collar. They are often absent, but when present they may vary from being large and clasping to small and slender (Figure 6, below).
Figure 6. Aurical types
The ligule is a very thin, tongue-like appendage growing upward from the inner surface of the collar between the leaf blade and the stem. If present, it may be just a fringe of hair or a thin membrane (Figure 7, below).
Figure 7. Ligule types
The flowering stems of grasses are usually hollow and are either round or flat (Figure 8, below).
There are three forms of seed heads (Figure 9, below): panicle (branching), spike (unbranched, with uniformly spaced spikelets) and spike-like panicle (unbranched, with uniformly spaced spikelets).
Figure 9. Types of inflorescence
Our most commonly used forage grass. It is a light-green bunchgrass.
The sheath is split with overlapping margins. The blade is 4-12 mm wide, 7-25 cm long and flat with a sharp-pointed tip. The collar is broad and continuous. There are no auricles. The ligule is a white membrane with a distinct notch and tooth on each side. The stems are round and 50-100 cm tall. The inflorescence is a very dense, spike-like panicle.
Flat, light-green, nearly smooth leaf blades and onion-like bulbs or corms at the base of the stems.
Figure 10a. Grass Species (Timothy)
Figure 10b. Collar (Timothy)
Varies in colour from light to dark green. It has brownish, blunt-tipped rhizomes covered with brown, scale-like sheaths and forms an open sod.
The sheath is closed. The blade is 4-12 mm wide, 15-40 cm long and flat with a sharp, pointed tip. The collar is narrow and divided by the mid-rib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a very short membrane. The stems are round and 60-120 cm tall. The inflorescence is a large panicle with the branches spreading in all directions. When top heavy, the branches shift over to one side.
A constriction resembling the letter "W" usually in the leaf blade about midway between the tip and the collar.
Figure 11a. Grass Species (Smooth Bromegrass)
Figure 11b. Collar (Smooth Bromegrass)
An under-used grass in pastures in Ontario. It has a high number of light-green, hairy leaves. It is a bunchgrass with a high re-growth and recovery rate.
The sheath is closed to near the top and is hairy. The blade is 2-5 mm wide, 10-30 cm long and is flat with a sharp point tip. It is also hairy on both upper and lower surfaces. The collar is narrow and divided at the midrib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a short, white membrane not unlike the smooth brome species. The stems are round and 60-90 cm tall. The inflorescence is a large panicle with branches in all directions. It is a bit smaller than smooth bromegrass and has short awns.
The hairy blades and sheaths, and the many, drooping basal leaves distinguish this grass from smooth bromegrass.
Figure 12a. Grass Species (Meadow Bromegrass)
Figure 12b. Collar (Meadow Bromegrass)
A fast-growing light-green bunchgrass.
The sheath is split part way and is green on the top and pale green or white on the lower part. The blade is 5-12 mm wide and 8-40 cm long. It is V-shaped near the base, but flat towards the sharp, pointed tip. The yellow-green collar is broad and divided by a midrib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a white membrane that usually has an awn-like point at the top. The stems are flat and 90-150 cm tall. The inflorescence is a panicle made up of several short, thick tufts.
The flat stems and the coarsely tufted panicle.
Figure 13a. Grass Species (Orchard Grass)
Figure 13b. Collar (Orchard Grass)
A large, coarse grass noted for its ability to grow in very wet or very dry soils. It forms a loose sod.
The sheath is split with overlapping margins. The blade is 6-15 mm wide, 10-30 cm long and flat with a sharp-pointed tip. The pale green or yellow collar is narrow and continuous. There are no auricles. The ligule is a white membrane that sometimes tears at the top with maturity. Stems are round. The inflorescence is a panicle similar to orchard grass but with finer tufts.
Wide leaf blades and edges of the blade constricted 5 cm from either the tip or the collar.
Figure 14a. Grass Species (Reed Canary Grass)
Figure 14b. Collar (Reed Canary Grass)
A sod-forming grass that has narrow, bristle-like dark green leaves.
The sheath is split part way and covered with fine hairs. The blade is 1.5-3 mm wide, 5-15 cm long, thick and rolled or folded lengthwise. The upper surface is deeply ridged, and the undersurface is shiny. The collar is narrow and continuous. There are no auricles. The ligule is a very short membrane. The stems are nearly round. The inflorescence is an open, fine panicle.
Dark-green, very slender and bristle-like leaves; old, dead basal leaf sheaths are reddish brown (hence the common name).
Figure 15a. Grass Species (Creeping Red Fescue)
Figure 15b. Collar (Creeping Red Fescue)
A deep-rooted, bright-green grass. Usually a bunchgrass, it has short rhizomes and may be weakly creeping.
The sheath is split with the margins overlapping at the bottom. The blade is 3-8 mm wide and 10-50 cm long, the upper side is dull and the lower side shiny. The edges are rough, and the tip is sharp-pointed. The collar is broad and continuous. The auricles are 0.5-1.5 mm long and usually blunt but sometimes claw like. The ligule is a very short membrane. The stems are round and 60-125 cm tall. The inflorescence is a slender panicle.
Rough leaf edges, short ligules and claw-like auricles.
Figure 16a. Grass Species (Meadow Fescue)
Figure 16b. Collar (Meadow Fescue)
A deep-rooted grass that produces well during the summer and retains its feed quality after being frosted. This deep green grass forms large (10-40 cm diameter), dense bunches, even though it has short rhizomes.
The sheath is split with the margins overlapping. The sheaths are smooth, thick and leathery, and the lower ones are very slow to decay. The blade is 4-12 mm wide, 20-70 cm long and flat with a sharp-pointed tip. It is thick and leathery, very smooth and shiny on the under-surface but dull and deeply ridged on the upper surface. The edges are rough. The yellowish collar is broad and wrinkled on the edges. The yellowish auricles are soft and wavy and have a few fine hairs along their margins. The ligule is a small membrane. The stems are round and 90-150 cm tall. The inflorescence is a spreading panicle.
Its tall, coarse growth, the prominently ribbed leathery dark green leaves, and the thick tussocks formed by the accumulation of old dead leaf sheaths for several years.
Figure 17a. Grass Species (Tall Fescue)
Figure 17b. Collar (Tall Fescue)
An early, fast growing, dark-green grass that looks similar to timothy. It grows well on moist soils and forms a sod.
The sheath is split with the margins overlapping. The blade is 3-8 mm wide, 10-15 cm long and flat with a sharp-pointed tip; the edges are rough. The upper surface is prominently ribbed. The light-green or yellow, medium-broad collar is divided by the midrib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a coarse membrane that is slightly hairy and striated. The stems are round and 50-100 cm tall. The inflorescence is a dense, spike-like panicle and looks like timothy. The short, soft awns along the sides of the seed head give the appearance of a fox's tail.
The rough leaf edges, the type of ligule, and the collar divided by the midribs distinguish meadow foxtail from timothy.
Figure 18a. Grass Species (Meadow Foxtail)
Figure 18b. Collar (Meadow Foxtail)
A dark-green grass that forms a dense sod in pastures with fertile, well-drained soils.
The sheath is closed when the plant is young but later splits. The blade is 2-5 mm wide, 5-40 cm long and V-shaped with a boat-shaped tip. It is shiny on the under-surface. The yellowish-green collar is broad and slightly divided by the midrib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a very short membrane. The stems are somewhat flattened and 30-100 cm tall. The inflorescence is an open, fine panicle with 5 branches at each node of the central axis.
The dark green colour and the shininess of the underside of leaves plus the boat-shaped leaf tips. The lead blade, when held up to the light, looks as if it has two transparent lines on each side of the midrib.
Figure 19a. Grass Species (Kentucky Bluegrass)
Figure 19b. Collar (Kentucky Bluegrass)
A bluish-green grass commonly found in run-down pastures. It forms an open sod.
The sheath is split. The blade is 2-5 mm wide, 2-10 cm long, and flat to V-shaped with a boat-shaped tip. The light-green collar is narrow and divided by the midrib. There are no auricles. The ligule is a short membrane. The stems are flat, and 50-75 cm tall. The inflorescence is a slender, fine panicle with 2 branches at each node of the central axis.
The pale bluish-green colour and dullness of leaves, which taper gradually from the collar to their boat-shaped tips. The leaf blade, when held up to light, looks as if it has a fine transparent line on each side of the midrib.
Figure 20a. Grass Species (Canada Bluegrass)
Figure 20b. Collar (Canada Bluegrass)
A soft, fine, bright-green grass that has a fibrous root system. It is short-lived despite its name.
The pale-green sheath can be either closed or split. The blade is 2-6 mm wide, 5-15 cm long and V-shaped, with a sharp-pointed tip. It is prominently ribbed on the top and smooth and shiny on the bottom. The collar is narrow. The auricles are small, soft and claw-like. The ligule is a thin membrane that is toothed at the top. The stems are flat and short, 30-60 cm tall. The inflorescence is a slender, stiff spike with each spikelet edgewise on the central axis.
The somewhat flattened or round stems, the shiny undersides of the bright green leaf blades, the soft, claw-like auricles and the spike inflorescence.
Figure 21a. Grass Species (Perennial Ryegrass)
Figure 21b. Collar (Perennial Ryegrass)
A common grass in pastures that have moderately moist soils. It has dark-green leaves and somewhat purplish inflorescences, which turn rusty red as they mature. It forms an open sod.
The sheath is split, with the margins overlapping. The blade is 2-7 mm wide, 5-20 cm long and flat with a sharp, pointed tip. It is prominently ridged on the upper surface, and the midrib is distinct on the bottom side. The pale green collar is large and V-shaped. There are no auricles. The ligule is a thin, pointed membrane that is very tall. The inflorescence is a fine panicle that is a rusty-red colour at maturity.
The prominently ridged upper surface of the blade, the tall ligule and the absence of auricles.
Figure 22a. Grass Species (Red Top)
Figure 22b. Collar (Red Top)
A commonly found grass that is known for its long rhizome system that produces a loose but tough-to-kill sod.
The sheath is split, with the margins overlapping. It may be smooth but is usually very hairy. The blade is 3-10 mm wide, 8-20 cm long and flat with a sharp-pointed tip. It is slightly hairy on the upper surface. The collar is V-shaped and divided by the midrib. It is finely hairy. The auricles are 1-3 mm long, slender and clasping. The ligule is a short, finely toothed membrane. The stems are round and 50-100 cm tall. The inflorescence is a slender, stiff spike with each little spikelet placed flat-wise on the central axis.
The slender, erect stems normally with hairy, split-leaf sheaths, clasping auricles and a short ligule; and a tough sod full of light-coloured rhizomes with hard, white, sharp, pointed tips.
Figure 23a. Grass Species (Quack Grass)
Figure 23b. Collar (Quack Grass)
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