The Grass Guide: Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass leaves vary from narrow and fine like Kentucky bluegrass to broad and coarse like tall fescue. In all cases, leaves have a very waxy or shiny appearance. Perennial ryegrass has a distinct purpling at the base.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Life cycle: Cool-season perennial

Native to: Southern Europe and North Africa

Uses: Pasture and hay

Identification: Smooth, silky leaves with a crease mark down the middle, an almost rounded leaf toward the top, and seeds placed opposite one another in one row in the seedhead.

Perennial ryegrass is a cool-season grass with a high nutritive value that works well in rotational grazing. It grows in bunches and is not very tolerant of drought or high summer temperatures.

Perennial ryegrass (left) is similar to annual ryegrass (right) in that spikelets (containing seed) are alternating on the stem. However perennial ryegrass does not usually have awns (fine hairs extending from the ends of each seed).

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Perennial ryegrass is less persistent than most cool-season grasses, but due to its extensive root system, it recycles nutrients well and improves soil health. Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly and, therefore, is useful in providing quick cover around high-traffic areas such as gates and water and feed areas. However, pasture survival is usually two years in the southern zone of adaptation and three to four years in the northern zone. It can be infected with an endophytic fungus similar to tall fescue; therefor,e farms are encouraged to plant endophyte-free or novel endophyte varieties.

Krista Lea, MS, coordinator of UK's Horse Pasture Evaluation Program within the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist within UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, provided this information.

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