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Avena fatua1.jpg
Common wild oat (Avena fatua)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Pooideae
Supertribe: Poodae
Tribe: Poeae
Subtribe: Aveninae
Genus: Avena
L. 1753 not Scop. 1777 nor Thell. 1911[1][2]
Type species
Avena sativa
  • Preissia Corda
  • Anelytrum Hack.

Avena is a genus of Eurasian and African plants[5] in the grass family. Collectively known as the oats, they include some species which have been cultivated for thousands of years as a food source for humans and livestock.[6] They are widespread throughout Europe, Asia and northwest Africa. Several species have become naturalized in many parts of the world, and are regarded as invasive weeds where they compete with crop production. All oats have edible seeds, though they are small and hard to harvest in most species.[7][8]

  • See Oat for a more detailed discussion of the oat as a food source.


Avena species, including cultivated oats, are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including rustic shoulder-knot and setaceous Hebrew character.

For diseases of oats, see List of oat diseases.


Cultivated oats[edit]

One species is of major commercial importance as a cereal grain. Four other species are grown as crops of minor or regional importance.[4][9]

  • Avena sativa – the common oat, a cereal crop of global importance and the species commonly referred to as "oats"
  • Avena abyssinica – the Ethiopian oat, native to Ethiopia, Eritrea, + Djibouti; naturalized in Yemen + Saudi Arabia
  • Avena byzantina, a minor crop in Greece and Middle East; introduced in Spain, Algeria, India, New Zealand, South America, etc.
  • Avena nuda – the naked oat or hulless oat, which plays much the same role in Europe as does A. abyssinica in Ethiopia. It is sometimes included in A. sativa and was widely grown in Europe before the latter replaced it. As its nutrient content is somewhat better than that of the common oat, A. nuda has increased in significance in recent years, especially in organic farming.
  • Avena strigosa – the lopsided oat, bristle oat, or black oat,[10] grown for fodder in parts of Western Europe and Brazil

Wild oats[edit]

Several species of Avena occur in the wild, sometimes as weeds in agricultural fields. They are known as wild oats or oat-grasses. Those growing alongside cultivated oats in agricultural fields are considered nuisance weeds, as, being grasses like the crop, they are difficult to remove chemically; any standard herbicide that would kill them would also damage the crop. A specific herbicide must be used. The costs of this herbicide and the length of time it must be used to reduce the weed is significant, with seeds able to lie dormant for up to 10 years.[4][11][12][13][14]

Species formerly included[edit]

Hundreds of taxa have been included in Avena at one time in the past but are now considered better suited to other genera:[4] Agrostis, Aira, Ampelodesmos, Anisopogon, Arrhenatherum, Avenula, Bromus, Calamagrostis, Capeochloa, Centropodia, Corynephorus, Danthonia, Danthoniastrum, Deschampsia, Festuca, Gaudinia, Helictochloa, Helictotrichon, Hierochloe, Lachnagrostis, Lolium, Parapholis, Pentameris, Periballia, Peyritschia, Rytidosperma, Schizachne, Sphenopholis, Stipa, Stipagrostis, Tenaxia, Tricholemma, Triraphis, Trisetaria, Trisetum, Tristachya and Ventenata.


"Sowing wild oats" is a phrase used since at least the 16th century; it appears in a 1542 tract by Thomas Beccon, a Protestant clergyman from Norfolk. Apparently, a similar expression was used in Roman Republican times, possibly by Plautus. The origin of the expression is the fact that wild oats, notably A. fatua, are a major weed in oat farming. Among European cereal grains, oats are hardest to tell apart from their weedy relatives, which look almost alike but yield little grain. The life cycle of A. fatua is nearly synchronous with that of common oat, and their relationship is an example of Vavilovian mimicry. Historically, growers could control the weed only by checking the crop plants one by one and hand-weeding. Consequently, "sowing wild oats" became a phrase to describe unprofitable activities. Given the reputation of oat grain to have invigorating properties and the obvious connection between plant seeds and human "seed", it is not surprising that the meaning of the phrase became a reference to the destructive sexual liaisons of an unmarried young male, which result in unwanted children born out of wedlock.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tropicos, search for Avena
  2. ^ Thellung, Albert. 1911. Vierteljahrsschrift der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich 56: 311–337 in German
  3. ^ lectotype designated by Nash in N. L. Britton et A. Brown, Ill. Fl. N.U.S. ed. 2. 1: 218 (1913)
  4. ^ a b c d Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  5. ^ List of Avena species on GRIN
  6. ^ Watson, L. and M. J. Dallwitz. (2008). "Avena". The Grass Genera of the World. Archived from the original on 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
  7. ^ Cabi, E. & M. Doğan. 2012. Poaceae. 690–756. In A. Güner, S. Aslan, T. Ekim, M. Vural & M. T. Babaç (eds.) Türkiye Bitkileri Listesi. Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi ve Flora Araştırmaları Derneği Yayını, Istanbul.
  8. ^ Röser, M., E. Döring, G. Winterfeld & J. Schneider. 2009. Generic realignments in the grass tribe Aveneae (Poaceae). Schlechtendalia 19: 27–38
  9. ^ Bailey, L.H. & E.Z. Bailey. 1976. Hortus Third i–xiv, 1–1290. MacMillan, New York
  10. ^ John Wishart. "Orkney College". Agronomy.uhi.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  11. ^ Flora of China Vol. 22 Page 323 燕麦属 yan mai shu Avena Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 79. 1753.
  12. ^ Flora of Pakistan, Avena Linn.
  13. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, genere Avena Archived February 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine includes photos and distribution maps for several species
  14. ^ Pohl, R. W. 1994. 38. Avena L. 6: 232. In G. Davidse, M. Sousa Sánchez & A.O. Chater (eds.) Flora Mesoamericana. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F..
  15. ^ Quinion, Michael (November 1999): World Wide Words: Sow one's wild oats. Retrieved 17 October 2007.
  • Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria; Weiss, Ehud (2012). Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (Fourth ed.). Oxford: University Press.