Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.), a cross-pollinated, hexaploid, cool-season perennial grass, has been widely grown as an important forage and turf grass throughout the world (Aiken and Strickland, 2013; Seal, 1983). The grass belongs to the tribe Festuceae, subfamily Festucoideae, and family Poaceae (Seal, 1983). Natural populations are distributed in temperate and cool climates throughout Europe, North–West Africa, North America, and west and central Asia (Černoch et al., 2003). Tall fescue not only enhances the natural beauty of the environment and increases the value of residential and commercial property (Bonos et al., 2006; Ha et al., 1992), but also provides numerous benefits to humans including providing feed for millions of beef cattle, horses, sheep, and countless wild animals (Wang et al., 2001). Therefore, tall fescue played an important role in pastoral industry, ecological landscaping, soil conservation, and athletic industry (Wang and Xie, 2007).
The genetic variability for morphological traits is the key component of breeding programs for broadening the gene pool (Chtourou-Ghorbel et al., 2011). Variety fescue is the cosmopolitan and ubiquitous taxon, and provides the most important and diverse genetic resources in the species as forage and turf. These variations might be attributed to difference in the genetic constitutions of the population or in the environment where they grow (Dutta et al., 2013). Chtourou-Ghorbel et al. (2011) reported that substantial variation in morphological characteristics among tall fescue cultivars was currently being lost due to severe genetic erosion associated with overgrazing, irregular rainfall, and the loss of rangeland in Tunisia. Majidi et al. (2009) indicated that morphological variation in tall fescue germplasm was heritable, and that several traits including plant height and dry matter yield had a high narrow sense heritability value. Morphological traits are of great importance in selecting rational parents for hybridization breeding of many crops. The knowledge of genotypic diversity was indispensable for efficient utilization of genetic resources and breeding (Beyene et al., 2006; Finger et al., 2010).
Plant height, spike length, spikelet count, spike count per plant, and spike weight are major components of plant yield as selection criteria in breeding (Topal et al., 2004). Ebrahimiyan et al. (2012) reported significant genotypic variation in plant height, flag-leaf length, and flag-leaf width among the seventy five tall fescues. The variation of morphological traits was influenced by genotype and environment (Chtourou-Ghorbel et al., 2011). Niazkhani et al. (2014) observed that the plant height had lower direct and positive effect on dry forage yield (correlation coefficient equals to 0.051). Knowledge of relationship among the morphological traits was the basic and most important for plant selection in a breeding program (Hasan et al., 2013).
Leaf roughness, poor regeneration ability, and poor stress resistance limit wide utilization of tall fescue (Carrow, 1996; Cross et al., 2013; Xu et al., 2006). Excellent tall fescue cultivars are not only able to produce more biomass, but also survive stress conditions. Fortunately, there was tongs of tall fescue germplasm composed of landraces, commercial cultivars, and breeding lines (Li et al., 2010). Thus, improvement of tall fescue might encourage its use as a forage grass species (Easton et al., 1994). However, genetic variation in morphological traits of tall fescue has not been understood very well.
Describing the morphological traits of a large tall fescue collection is still costly and time-consuming. Selecting and describing numerous traits within smaller sample was reasonable and possible. The objectives of this study were to investigate the phenotypic variation of the morphological characteristics and to determine the correlation between the morphological traits. The findings of this study would add new information for better understanding the genetic diversity of tall fescue and therefore facilitate breeding design.
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Values of morphological traits of tall fescue accessions.