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Viviparous Fescue

Festuca vivipara

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Bogs, moorland, mountains, riverbanks, rocky places, waterside, woodland.

Purple, no petals
Panicles up to 10cm in length. The purplish-green flowers are in leafy tufts.
The fruit is a caryopsis. This is a kind of one-seeded, dry fruit.
A perennial, compact, clump-forming species with stiff-looking, needle-like leaf blades. A common species in hilly regions, such as the Pennines, Lake District, Scotland and Snowdonia.
Other Names:
Viviparous Sheep's-fescue.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Festuca vivipara, also known as viviparous fescue or viviparous sheep fescue, is a species of grass that is native to the Arctic and alpine regions of North America and Eurasia. It is a small, tufted grass that typically grows to be about 6-12 inches tall. The leaves are narrow and typically blue-green in color, with the basal leaves being longer than the upper leaves.

Viviparous fescue is a hardy, cold-tolerant grass that is well-suited to harsh, alpine environments. It is often found in rocky or gravelly soils, and it is able to grow in areas with short growing seasons and low temperatures.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of this species is its reproductive strategy, which is called vivipary. Vivipary is a reproductive strategy where the plants produce live young plants, rather than seeds. This means that instead of producing seeds, viviparous fescue produces small plantlets that are already rooted and ready to grow. This can help to ensure the survival of the plant in harsh environments, as the plantlets are able to grow quickly and establish themselves in the soil before the harsh conditions of winter set in.

This grass also has valuable ecological functions, like Festuca brevipila, in providing cover and food for wildlife and preventing soil erosion, and also as forage for grazing animals and wildlife.

Due to the fact that vivipary is a very specialized reproductive strategy and is not common among other grasses, Festuca vivipara is of great interest for scientists for its unique ecology, evolution and genetics.


Festuca vivipara, commonly known as Viviparous Fescue, is a unique species of grass that has adapted to thrive in harsh, high altitude environments, such as alpine and arctic regions. It is known for its remarkable ability to produce viable seeds while still attached to the mother plant, a process called vivipary.

In this blog, we will explore some of the key characteristics of Festuca vivipara and its adaptations, as well as the importance of this species in its native habitats.

Physical Characteristics

Festuca vivipara is a perennial grass that typically grows to a height of 5-20 cm, forming tight clumps or tussocks. The leaves are narrow and rolled, with a bluish-green coloration that helps protect the plant from excessive sunlight. The inflorescence is a dense cluster of spikelets that emerge from the center of the plant, and it blooms from June to August.


What makes Festuca vivipara unique is its ability to produce seeds while still attached to the mother plant, rather than dispersing them immediately. This process, known as vivipary, allows the plant to develop seeds in a protected environment and can help to ensure their survival in harsh conditions. The seeds develop in specialized structures known as bulbils, which are small, vegetative buds that form at the base of the inflorescence.


Festuca vivipara has evolved a number of adaptations that allow it to thrive in high altitude environments. For example, the plant is highly tolerant of cold temperatures and can survive in areas where the soil remains frozen for much of the year. The rolled leaves help to protect the plant from excessive sunlight, while the tussock growth form allows the plant to avoid competition with other species for resources.


Festuca vivipara plays an important role in its native habitats, serving as a valuable source of forage for a variety of herbivores, including sheep, reindeer, and muskoxen. The plant also helps to stabilize soil in areas that are prone to erosion, and it can serve as a valuable indicator of environmental change, such as the effects of climate change.

In recent years, Festuca vivipara has also become an important species for research, particularly in the fields of genetics and evolution. Scientists are studying the plant's unique reproductive strategies and its ability to adapt to extreme environments, in the hopes of gaining insights that could be applied to other crops and species.


Festuca vivipara is a fascinating and unique species of grass that has adapted to thrive in some of the harshest environments on the planet. Its ability to produce viable seeds while still attached to the mother plant is just one of many remarkable adaptations that make it a valuable subject of study for scientists and a vital component of its native ecosystems. By understanding the adaptations and ecological role of Festuca vivipara, we can gain a greater appreciation for the remarkable diversity of life on our planet.

More about Viviparous Fescue

Festuca vivipara is a circumpolar species that is found in a variety of high altitude habitats, including alpine and arctic regions, and it can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. It is often found in rocky areas, gravelly slopes, and on nutrient-poor soils.

The plant has a slow growth rate, but it is able to form dense patches over time, making it an important component of alpine and arctic ecosystems. It is able to survive in areas with high snow cover and high wind speeds, and it can tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils.

In addition to its ecological importance, Festuca vivipara has also been used for various traditional and medicinal purposes. For example, in some areas, the plant has been used to treat respiratory problems and as a diuretic. It has also been used as a natural dye and a source of fiber.

However, despite its many adaptations and ecological benefits, Festuca vivipara is facing a number of threats, particularly from climate change. As temperatures warm and snow cover decreases in some areas, the plant may be forced to compete with other species for resources, and it may become more vulnerable to damage from extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.

In addition to climate change, Festuca vivipara is also threatened by habitat destruction, particularly from human activities, such as mining and grazing. Efforts are underway to conserve the plant and its habitats, including the creation of protected areas and the promotion of sustainable land use practices.

One interesting aspect of Festuca vivipara is its reproductive biology. The bulbils produced by vivipary are essentially small clones of the mother plant, which allows the plant to reproduce asexually and potentially form new, genetically identical individuals. This may be particularly advantageous in high altitude environments where sexual reproduction may be limited by environmental factors such as low temperatures, short growing seasons, or limited pollinators.

However, Festuca vivipara is also capable of sexual reproduction, and studies have shown that the species exhibits a high level of genetic diversity, with different populations exhibiting unique genetic traits. This genetic diversity may be important for the long-term survival of the species, as it allows populations to adapt to changing environmental conditions over time.

Festuca vivipara is also important in terms of its interactions with other species. The plant is a valuable food source for a variety of herbivores, including sheep, reindeer, and muskoxen, and it provides shelter and nesting sites for small mammals and birds. In addition, the plant's extensive root system helps to stabilize soil, preventing erosion and promoting the growth of other plants in its vicinity.

The ecological importance of Festuca vivipara is further highlighted by the fact that the plant is often used as an indicator species for environmental change, particularly in relation to climate change. Changes in the distribution, growth patterns, or reproductive success of the plant may be indicative of broader environmental changes in alpine and arctic regions, and monitoring the health of Festuca vivipara populations can provide valuable insights into the impacts of climate change on these sensitive ecosystems.

In conclusion, Festuca vivipara is a remarkable species of grass that is adapted to thrive in some of the harshest environments on the planet. Its unique adaptations, reproductive strategies, and ecological role make it an important subject of study and conservation, and efforts are underway to protect this fascinating plant and the ecosystems in which it thrives. By continuing to study and protect Festuca vivipara, we can gain a greater understanding of the remarkable diversity of life on our planet, and work to ensure that these unique and valuable species are conserved for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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