Meadow fescue

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Code: g4
Latin name: Festuca pratensis
Source material: Pollen
Family: Poaceae (Graminae)
Sub family: Pooideae
Tribe: Poeae
Common names: Meadow Fescue, Tall Fescue, Taller Fescue, Giant Fescue, English Bluegrass

Synonyms: Festuca elatior, Lolium pratense, Festuca arundinacea 

Fescues are of two basic types, Meadow and Tall Fescue, with some confusion existing between their taxonomical designations. Tall Fescue is more persistent and more heavily yielding, so that it is now the dominant type. But their very close morphological similarity and habitat justify a simultaneous consideration of the plants as allergens. Some authors regard Festuca elatior as a synonym for Meadow fescue grass; other regard Festuca elatior as Reed Fescue grass. 


A grass species producing pollen, which often induces hay fever, asthma and conjunctivitis in sensitised individuals.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution

Fescue is a temperate-climate grass native to northern Europe and western Asia. It has been introduced and grows well in cool climates of the US, but is more common in Europe. It has been introduced in similar climates worldwide. It is a valuable pasture grass, used to a lesser extent for hay and as an all-purpose turf grass.

Tall Fescue is a robust, coarse-textured, bunch-type perennial. The erect stems can reach over a metre high. The main difference of Meadow Fescue is its much smaller height, typically less than half a metre. The 3mm- to 8mm-wide and 10cm- to 50cm-long leaf blades are upright, rolled when young, coarse on the upper surface and smooth underneath, succulent, and with rasp-like margins and prominent veins. The leaves radiate from a central clump, and the sheaths of inferior leaves are purple-red.

The panicle-like inflorescence is up to 20cm long. It spreads during flowering, and contracts afterwards. The spikelets, green or faintly purple, are 3- to 11-flowered. The florets are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant is wind-pollinated. Fescue flowering season is from May to July in the Northern Hemisphere, and from October to April in Australia. Fescue tends to be a solitary plant: it does not spread rapidly because of its lack of underground stolons or rhizomes.

Festuca elatior (Tall Fescue) may be infected by an endophyte, Neotyphodium coenophialum, which produces ergot alkaloids, in particular ergovaline, which may result in fescue toxicosis in cattle (1).


Fescue grows best in open and damp sites such as roadsides, creeks, swampy verges and open paddocks, as well as in meadows and pastures. Tall Fescue’s deep, extensive root system makes it suitable for drought-prone sites. 

Allergen Description

Meadow Fescue contains at least 24 antigens, of which 12 have been shown to bind to sera from patients with well-established allergic rhinitis (2). A number of allergens have been isolated and characterised.

Fes p 1, a Group 1 grass allergen, an expansin (3-6).

Fes p 4, a 60 kDa protein, a Group 4 grass allergen, a berberine bridge enzyme (7-10).

Fes p 5, a Group 5 grass allergen, a ribonuclease (11, 12).

Fes p 13, a Group 13 grass allergen, a polygalacturonase (13).

A carbohydrate moiety appears to be involved in IgE binding to Fes p 4.

Potential Cross-reactivity

Extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus may be expected, as well as among members of the family Poaceae to a certain degree, and in particular within the subfamily Pooideae (Rye grass (g5), Canary grass (g71), Meadow grass (g8), Timothy (g6), Cocksfoot (g3), Meadow Fescue (g4), Velvet (g13), Redtop (g9), Meadow Foxtail (g16), Wild Rye grass (g70)) (14, 15).

As a result of the presence of allergens belonging to group 1, 4, 5 and 13 grass allergen families, varying degrees of cross-reactivity between Meadow Fescue pollen and grass pollen are possible, but have not been extensively studied or reported on.

This grass contains Group 1 allergens, to which more than 95% of patients allergic to grass pollen possess IgE antibodies. These are highly cross-reactive glycoproteins exclusively expressed in the pollen of many grasses (3, 6, 16, 17). Group 1 allergens are highly homologous, but not all of the antigenic epitopes are cross-reactive (17, 18). For example, Group 1 allergens from eight different clinically important grass pollens of the Pooideae (Rye grass, Canary grass, Meadow grass, Cocksfoot and Timothy), Chloridoideae (Bermuda grass) and Panicoideae (Johnson grass, Maize) were isolated, and IgE binding to an allergic human serum pool was conducted to determine the degree of antigenic and IgE-binding similarities. The highest IgE-binding similarity was observed between Cocksfoot and Rye grass (53%) and between Rye grass and Canary grass (43%). No IgE-binding similarity was observed between Maize and other grasses. The highest antigenic similarity was also observed between Rye grass and Cocksfoot grass (76%), and the lowest similarity between Rye grass and Maize (23%) and Rye grass and Bermuda (10%) (19).

Highly homologous Group 1 allergens have been demonstrated between Pha a 1 from Canary grass, Lol p 1 from Rye grass pollen (a deduced amino acid sequence identity of 88.8%), Hol l 1 from Velvet grass pollen (88.1%), and Phl p 1 from Timothy grass pollen (86.6%) (20). The major Timothy grass pollen allergen Phl p 1 also cross-reacts with most grass-, corn- and monocot-derived Group 1 allergens (21). Monoclonal antibodies of Cyn d 1 (Bermuda grass) recognised cross-reactive epitopes on proteins from eight other grasses, including Rye grass, Timothy grass, Meadow grass and Johnson grass (22).

Meadow Fescue grass also contains a Group 4 allergen. Group 4 grass pollen allergens are glycoproteins with a molecular weight of 50 to 60 kDa, which are present in many grass species. Almost 75% of patients allergic to grass pollen display IgE reactivity to Group 4 allergens, which can hence be regarded as major grass pollen allergens (23). Inhibition studies of IgE antibody binding to Dac g 4 (Dactylis glomerata, or Cocksfoot grass) with other pollen extracts confirmed the presence of cross-reactive allergens in Secale cereale (Cultivated Rye), Lolium perenne (Rye grass), Festuca elatior (Meadow Fescue), Holcus lanatus (Velvet grass), Bromus arvensis (Field Brome), Poa pratense (Meadow grass), Hordeum sativum (Barley), and Phleum pratense (Timothy grass) (24). Further, Phl p 4 homologues with similar molecular weights were detected in Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot grass), Festuca pratensis (Meadow Fescue), Holcus lanatus (Velvet grass), Poa pratensis (Meadow grass), and Lolium perenne (Rye grass). Group 4 homologues are present in the various grass extracts, but to varying extents (7).

Cross-reactivity between other grasses containing a Group 5 grass allergen and/or a Group 13 grass allergen is possible (11, 13).

Immunological identity has been demonstrated between recombinant Dac g 2 (Cocksfoot grass) and Lol p 1and Lol p 2 (both from Rye grass). Similar cross-identity was observed with pollen extracts from three other grass species: Festuca rubra (Red Fescue), Phleum pratense (Timothy grass) and Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal grass). Recombinant Dac g 2 was recognised by species- and group-cross-reactive human IgE antibodies in 4 out of 12 (33%) sera randomly selected from grass-sensitive individuals, and in 14 out of 21 (67%) sera from patients receiving grass pollen immunotherapy (25). As Festuca rubra is probably very cross-reactive with F. elatior, by inference these findings probably also apply to the latter. This is supported by a study in which a monoclonal antibody against major Rye grass pollen that bound to the 28 to 30 kDa allergen showed binding to similar polypeptides in Meadow Fescue (26).

Fescue meadow pollen cross-sensitises with Kiwi fruit. A 24 kDa Kiwi glycoprotein was demonstrated to share common epitopes with Fes p 4 and a 36 kDa Meadow Fescue allergen. The cross-reactivity between the 24 kDa Kiwi allergen and Fes p 4 was confirmed in further analysis (10).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions

Meadow Fescue pollen is a common inducer of asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis (27, 28). Further, therapeutic and/or diagnostic studies have alluded to patients sensitised or allergic to Meadow Fescue grass (29).

In a Polish study, 22 patients between 13 and 53 years of age with seasonal allergic rhinitis were examined for specific IgE to five grass and three weed pollens. The most common sensitisation was to Meadow Fescue, followed by Meadow grass (Poa pratensis), and Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) (27).

Meadow fescue grass pollen was reported to be a frequent cause of allergic reactions in Yugoslavia (10).

In Norway, in 770 patients with seasonal and perennial nasal symptoms, pollens from Timothy, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow grass and Meadow Fescue were found to be very important causative factors (30).

Other reactions

Fescue grass is often infected with an endophyte, Acremonium coenophialum, which produces several classes of plant/fungal alkaloids. These are responsible for toxicosis problems in animals ingesting this grass, resulting in a syndrome called Fescue toxicosis (31). These pyrrolizidine alkaloids (particularly in Tall Fescue) may be excreted in cow’s milk, and pose a hazard to children ingesting milk (32). 

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, developer of Allergy Advisor,


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As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.