A common, tall, cool-season pasture grass with short, creeping rootstocks, growing in heavy clumps with erect stems and often forming dense, solid stands. Leaves are coarse, 4-5 inches long, smooth on the undersurface and usually rough above. The erect panicles (compoundly branching flowering stalks) are somewhat narrow and contracted to slightly spreading, usually 2-10 inches long, and often nodding at the top. Flowers occur in flat, oval spikelets that are 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. There are usually 4-5 individual flowers in each spikelet. Blooms April through July (sometimes to October).
Similar species: Meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis) is very similar and can be distinguished by its shorter height, thinner stem bases and less-robust habit; its not having hairs on the auricles (earlike structures where the leaf blade joins and bends at the stem); and its having usually 6-12 individual flowers within each spikelet. Some botanists place these two fescues into the genus Lolium.