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SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii


Anderson, Michelle D. 2005. Leucopoa kingii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/plants/graminoid/leukin/all.html [].


Festuca kingii (S. Watson) Cassidy [38]
Hesperochloa kingii (Wats.) Rydb. [39,40]


spike fescue
King fescue

The currently accepted scientific name of spike fescue is Leucopoa kingii (S. Wats.) W.A. Weber (Poaceae) [20,24,25,26,33,35,42,43,75,76]. Spike fescue was formerly recognized as a species in the genus Festuca or placed in the monotypic genus Hesperochloa [20]. Weber placed the plant as the only American species in the small Asiatic genus Leucopoa, which is composed of dioecious, fescue-like grasses [20,75].





SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii
Spike fescue occurs from southeastern Oregon to southern California, east through the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain states to southwestern Nebraska and western Kansas [20,42].

Plants database provides a distributional map of spike fescue.

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES44 Alpine

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)


5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

K005 Mixed conifer forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K030 California oakwoods
K033 Chaparral
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalograss

206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
208 Whitebark pine
209 Bristlecone pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
216 Blue spruce
217 Aspen
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
249 Canyon live oak
256 California mixed subalpine

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
108 Alpine Idaho fescue
109 Ponderosa pine-shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
210 Bitterbrush
213 Alpine grassland
216 Montane meadows
301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
305 Idaho fescue-Richardson needlegrass
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
307 Idaho fescue-threadleaf sedge
308 Idaho fescue-tufted hairgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
407 Stiff sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
410 Alpine rangeland
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
419 Bittercherry
420 Snowbrush
421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose
603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass
606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
611 Blue grama-buffalo grass
612 Sagebrush-grass
722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie

Spike fescue forms a community type with field crazyweed (Oxytropis campestris) in Montana. Other associates in this community type include fringed sagebrush (Artemisia frigida), big sagebrush (A. tridentata), green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), and Hood's phlox (Phlox hoodii) [19].

In Wyoming, spike fescue may codominate grassland areas with Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) [18], and may dominate the understory of limber pine (Pinus flexilis) communities in both Wyoming and Idaho [2,3,18,67]. Other associates in these communities include Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), common juniper (Juniperus communis), Rocky Mountain juniper (J. scopulorum), wax currant (Ribes cereum), big sagebrush, bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, grama grasses (Bouteloua spp.), prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), Cusick's bluegrass (Poa cusickii), and Ross' sedge (Carex rossii) [2,3,4,12,67].

In Colorado, spike fescue may codominate in interior ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) communities; additional associates include Douglas-fir, limber pine, fringed sagebrush, wax currant, prairie Junegrass, Geyer's onion (Allium geyeri), and wormleaf stonecrop (Sedum stenopetalum) [3,37].

Big sagebrush/spike fescue/prairie Junegrass communities have been recorded in Nevada. Additional species present include low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula), slender buckwheat (Eriogonum microthecum), mutton grass, oblongleaf bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia), and Letterman needlegrass (Achnatherum lettermanii) [53].

Associates in other big sagebrush communities include Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), thickspike wildrye (Elymus macrourus), and western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) [65]. In mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana), spike fescue commonly occurs with needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), Columbia needlegrass (Achnatherum nelsonii), Idaho fescue, and bluegrasses (Poa spp.) [16,57]. In curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) communities, spike fescue associates include mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus), bluebunch wheatgrass, Oregon-grape (Mahonia repens), big sagebrush, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) [21]. In the plains grasslands, common associates of spike fescue are grama grasses, cheatgrass, wheatgrasses (Agropyron spp.), and buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) [48].

Spike fescue is used as an indicator plant for forest habitat types in Idaho and Wyoming [70].

Classifications listing spike fescue as a plant community dominant include:

Colorado [3,37]
Idaho [67]
Montana [19,60]
Nevada [53]
Wyoming [2,3,4,18]


SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [38,40,76]).

Spike fescue is a native, cool season perennial bunchgrass [14,41,42,43,70,76]. It grows in dense, erect culms 1 to 3 feet tall (30-90 cm), with old culms persistent [39,40,41,70,72,76]. Spike fescue often grows in a ring-like pattern, forming tufts up to 6.6 feet (2 m) in diameter [20].

Leaves have a smooth sheath and firm flat to involute blade 0.08 to 0.4 inch (2-10 mm) wide [38,39,41,70,72,76]. The spike fescue inflorescence is a somewhat narrow, erect panicle 3 to 8 inches (7.6-20 cm) long with short, erect branches [24,38,39,40,41,70,72,76]. Spike fescue produces awnless lemmas 0.2 to 0.3 inch (5-8 mm) long [26,39,40,72]. This species often produces short rhizomes [15,33,38,41,72,76].


Spike fescue reproduces via seed and rhizomes [15].

Breeding system: Spike fescue is commonly dioecious [24,33,35,38,41,72,76].

Pollination: No information is available on this topic.

Seed production: No information is available on this topic.

Seed dispersal: Spike fescue seed is dispersed by wind [15].

Seed banking: No information is available on this topic.

Germination: No information is available on this topic.

Seedling establishment/growth: No information is available on this topic.

Asexual regeneration: Spike fescue regenerates vegetatively via rhizomes [15,15,33,38,41,72,76].

Spike fescue occurs in habitats ranging from plains grasslands to subalpine forests and alpine meadows [42,48,50,59]. Plant communities are usually grassy or lightly wooded; spike fescue prefers open ridges and slopes (~40% grass cover) [33,41,60,76]. Spike fescue is commonly found on warm, xeric, even droughty sites. These include rolling hills, ridges, and talus slopes [2,3,18,35,40,43,59,69,72]. Slopes may range from gentle to steep [4,19,37,67], and spike fescue occurs on all aspects [18,37,53,59,67].

The following table summarizes information on the elevation distribution of spike fescue by state or region:

California 9,500-11,000 feet (2,300-3,350 m) [79]
Colorado 5,500-10,000 feet (1,670-3,050 m) [3,36]
Idaho 7,800-10,120 feet (2,400-3,080 m) [59,67]
Montana ~9,500 feet (2,300 m) [19]
Nevada 6,000-11,300 feet (1,830-3,450 m) [43,53]
Pacific Northwest <11,000 feet (3,350 m) [40]
Utah 4,500-12,000 feet (1,370-3,660 m) [39,57,59,72,76]
Wyoming 6,000-10,000 feet (1,830-3,050 m) [3,4,18,41]

Spike fescue grows on a range of parent materials, including calcareous [19], shale [59], metamorphic, igneous [37], dolomite, sandstone, and granite substrates [79]. Soil textures range from stony and gravelly to clay-loam and silty [19,41,53,59,60]. However, spike fescue prefers moderately deep, well-drained, loamy soils [4,41,57,59] with a somewhat alkaline pH (e.g. 7.4) [19].

A dioecious plant, spike fescue exhibits habitat assortment by sex; a Wyoming study found significantly fewer (p<0.001) female plants on more xeric sites, demonstrating a preference for moist sites. Even on moist sites, female plants only constituted a maximum of 50% of the individuals. On dry sites, female plants also tend to have fewer inflorescences per plant than do male plants [30].

Spike fescue is considered to be an indicator of community climax in a number of sagebrush-grassland, mountain grassland, and drier forest habitat types. It grows as a topographic climax species on dry, stony, windswept ridges and other harsh microsites [77].

New growth arises from clumps of persistent sheaths and culms [20,49]. Flowering begins in June and ends in August [22].


SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii
Fire adaptations: Spike fescue persists following fire via on-site surviving rhizomes, and can colonize an area through off-site seed sources [15].

Fire regimes: No information was found in the available literature regarding the relationship between fire regime and spike fescue. As a widely distributed species occurring in a variety of plant communities, spike fescue is subject to a range of fire regimes. The following list provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where spike fescue occurs. It may not be inclusive. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [55]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [62]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [8,17,52]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [74,80]
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35 [55,78]
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 [55,61,78]
blue grama-buffalo grass Bouteloua gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35 [55,78]
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100 [55]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1,000 [10,63]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35 [55]
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 5-47+ [55,56,78]
blue spruce* Picea pungens 35-200 [7]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [55]
Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine P. aristata 9-55 [23]
whitebark pine* Pinus albicaulis 50-200 [1,5]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [29,32,44,55]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30 [7]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [7,11,47]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [7,34,51]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [6,7]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [7,8,9]
California oakwoods Quercus spp. < 35
canyon live oak Quercus chrysolepis <35 to 200 [7]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii
Fire generally top-kills dry grasses. The rhizomatous, dense growth of spike fescue may lessen the impact of fire on this species.

No additional information is available on this topic.

Due to surviving rhizomes, spike fescue often increases following fire [15,66].

No additional information is available on this topic.

Following a 1979 prescribed fire in a Wyoming big sagebrush community (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis), the following production of spike fescue was recorded [66]:

lbs/acre (kg/ha)
1979 (preburn) 167 (190)
1983 (unburned) 34 (38)
1983 (burned) 118 (134)


SPECIES: Leucopoa kingii
Spike fescue is frequently browsed by mule deer [46,67] and elk [73]. Domestic livestock commonly graze spike fescue on spring range [72].

Palatability/nutritional value: Spike fescue is reportedly a highly nutritious, productive, and palatable grass [41]. It is fairly palatable for cattle and domestic sheep in the spring [37,72,76]; however, as spike fescue matures in summer it becomes unpalatable and is grazed sparingly [72,76]. Palatability of spike fescue for livestock and wildlife species is listed below by state [22]:

domestic cattle good good fair good
domestic sheep fair fair fair fair
domestic horses good good good good
pronghorn --- --- fair poor
elk --- --- good good
mule deer --- --- fair poor
white-tailed deer --- --- --- poor
small mammals --- --- fair ---
small nongame birds --- --- fair ---
upland game birds --- --- fair ---
waterfowl --- --- poor ---

Nutritional content (%) of spike fescue is as follows [54]:

Aerial part Aerial part Aerial part Aerial part Aerial part
Fresh Fresh - Immature Fresh - Early Bloom Fresh - Mature Overripe
ash 7.4 7.6 7.8 7.5 6.4
crude fiber 33.9 29.2 33.6 37.2 39.0
ether extract 4.2 4.4 4.3 3.8 5.3
N-free extract 43.0 40.0 39.8 44.9 45.5
protein 11.5 18.8 14.5 6.6 3.8
digestible protein
cattle 7.7 13.9 10.2 3.5 1.1
goats 7.3 14.1 10.1 2.7 0.1
horses 7.3 13.5 9.8 3.1 0.1
sheep 7.7 14.5 10.5 3.1 0.5
calcium 0.44 --- 0.49 0.44 0.25
phosphorus 0.30 --- 0.38 0.20 0.07

Cover value: Spike fescue provides some cover for smaller mammals and birds. Cover value in 2 western states has been rated as follows [22]:

small mammals good good
small nongame birds fair good
upland game birds fair fair
waterfowl poor poor

No information is available on this topic.

No information is available on this topic.

A study of a spike fescue-field crazyweed community found graminoid productivity ranged from 275 to 875 pounds per acre (312-990 kg/ha), with a mean productivity of 613 pounds per acre (686 kg/ha) [19]. However, spike fescue often occurs in scattered bunches, so productivity per acre may be low [72].

Partial cutting of overstory trees generally increases the proportion and production of spike fescue in forest communities [37].

Spike fescue decreases under heavy grazing pressure [41].

Leucopoa kingii: References

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2. Alexander, Robert R. 1986. Classification of the forest vegetation of Wyoming. Res. Note RM-466. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 10 p. [304]
3. Alexander, Robert R. 1988. Forest vegetation on National Forests in the Rocky Mountain and Intermountain Regions: habitat and community types. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-162. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 47 p. [5903]
4. Alexander, Robert R.; Hoffman, George R.; Wirsing, John M. 1986. Forest vegetation of the Medicine Bow National Forest in southeastern Wyoming: a habitat type classification. Res. Pap. RM-271. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 39 p. [307]
5. Arno, Stephen F. 1976. The historical role of fire on the Bitterroot National Forest. Res. Pap. INT-187. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 29 p. [15225]
6. Arno, Stephen F. 1980. Forest fire history in the Northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry. 78(8): 460-465. [11990]
7. Arno, Stephen F. 2000. Fire in western forest ecosystems. In: Brown, James K.; Smith, Jane Kapler, eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 2. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 97-120. [36984]
8. Arno, Stephen F.; Gruell, George E. 1983. Fire history at the forest-grassland ecotone in southwestern Montana. Journal of Range Management. 36(3): 332-336. [342]
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