Thursday, July 22, 2010

Identifying Small Grains

Small grains (wheat, barley, rye and oats) can be distinguished by leaf morphology.

culm - the stem
leaf sheath - the part of the leaf that stays wrapped around the culm
leaf blade - the part of the leaf that sticks out (and looks like a leaf)
ligule - a thin collar on the base of the blade that wraps around the culm
auricle - projections from the base of the blade that may wrap around the culm

Ligules and auricles in particular have taxonomic value for small grains...

short, hairy, clasping auricles
prominent ligule
hairy leaf blade and sheath

long, smooth, clasping auricles
inconspicuous ligules
hairy leaf sheath and blade (usually)

very short, smooth, pointed auricles
very small and inconspicuous ligules

Triticale (wheat x rye hybrid)
short, hairy, clasping auricles
prominent ligules
leaf blade and sheath hairy

no auricles
prominent, short ligules
hairless leaf sheath and blade hairless (or almost)

So, the crop growing across the street from my apt must be barley! (due to its long auricles wrapped around the culm and the lack of obvious ligules - see pic) The spikes on these plants have two rows of grain, which Wikipedia claims is typical of brewing barley.

Know of any other ways to tell these (or other very similar) crops apart?

Texas Tech
Handbook of Food Science, Technology and Engineering


  1. Thanks for the nugget of knowledge! I had been thinking that I would like to learn more about grasses. :D

  2. That reminds me I need to learn more about grasses. But I need turf grasses. I'll go get more info.



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