1. Family: Poaceae Barnhart
    1. Genus: Avena L.
      1. Avena sativa L.

        Oat (Avena sativa) is one of a number of species of domesticated and wild oats in the genus Avena (the members of which are collectively known as oats). Oat is descended from A. sterilis, a wild oat that spread as a weed of wheat and barley from the Fertile Crescent (a region spreading from Israel to western Iran) to Europe. It was domesticated about 3,000 years ago, in the wetter, colder conditions of Europe, in which oats thrive, and soon became an important cereal in its own right on the cooler fringes of Europe.

    Annual. Culms erect; 40-180 cm long. Leaves cauline. Ligule an eciliate membrane; 3-6 mm long. Leaf-blades 14-40 cm long; 5-15 mm wide. Leaf-blade surface scaberulous; rough on both sides. Leaf-blade apex acuminate.
    Inflorescence a panicle. Panicle open; pyramidal; effuse; nodding; 20-40 cm long; 5-15 cm wide. Primary panicle branches drooping. Spikelets pendulous; solitary. Fertile spikelets pedicelled. Pedicels filiform.
    Spikelets comprising 2-3 fertile florets; with a barren rhachilla extension. Spikelets cuneate; laterally compressed; 22-27 mm long; persistent on plant. Floret callus glabrous; disarticulating obliquely.
    Spikelets comprising 2-3 fertile florets; with a barren rhachilla extension. Spikelets cuneate; laterally compressed; 22-27 mm long; persistent on plant. Floret callus glabrous; disarticulating obliquely.
    Glumes similar; exceeding apex of florets; thinner than fertile lemma; gaping. Lower glume lanceolate; 22-27 mm long; 1 length of upper glume; membranous; without keels; 7-9 -veined. Lower glume apex acuminate. Upper glume lanceolate; 22-27 mm long; 1.5-1.6 length of adjacent fertile lemma; membranous; without keels; 7-9 -veined. Upper glume apex acuminate.
    Fertile lemma lanceolate; 15-17 mm long; coriaceous; much thinner above; without keel; 7-9 -veined. Lemma surface scabrous; rough above; glabrous. Lemma apex dentate; 2 -fid; muticous, or awned; 0-1 -awned. Principal lemma awn dorsal; arising 0.5 way up back of lemma; geniculate; 25-35 mm long overall; with twisted column. Palea keels ciliate.
    Anthers 3. Ovary pubescent all over.
    Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; hairy all over. Hilum linear.
    Europe: northern, central, southwestern, southeastern, and eastern. Africa: north, Macaronesia, northeast tropical, east tropical, southern tropical, south, and middle Atlantic ocean. Asia-temperate: Siberia, Soviet far east, Soviet Middle Asia, Caucasus, western Asia, Arabia, China, Mongolia, and eastern Asia. Asia-tropical: India and Malesia. Australasia: Australia and New Zealand. Pacific: southwestern, south-central, northwestern, and north-central. North America: Subarctic, northwest USA, north-central USA, northeast USA, southwest USA, south-central USA, and Mexico. South America: Mesoamericana, Caribbean, northern South America, western South America, Brazil, and southern South America.
    Aveneae. Fl Turk.
    Floret callus fracturing transversely.

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Oat is cultivated throughout the temperate world, to produce food for livestock and humans, and even as an ingredient for cosmetics.

    Oat (Avena sativa) is one of a number of species of domesticated and wild oats in the genus Avena (the members of which are collectively known as oats). Oat is descended from A. sterilis, a wild oat that spread as a weed of wheat and barley from the Fertile Crescent (a region spreading from Israel to western Iran) to Europe. It was domesticated about 3,000 years ago, in the wetter, colder conditions of Europe, in which oats thrive, and soon became an important cereal in its own right on the cooler fringes of Europe.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Domesticated oats have been traced back to Bronze Age Europe, and are now cultivated around the temperate world.


    Avena sativa is an annual with erect culms (stems) 40–180 cm long. Its leaves are cauline (arise from the upper part of the stem). The ligule (appendage between the sheaf and blade of the leaf) is a hairless membrane, 3–6 mm long. The leaf-blades are 14–40 cm long and 5–15 mm wide. The leaf-blade surface is minutely rough-textured on both sides. The tip of the leaf-blade tapers to a point.

    The inflorescence is an open, pyramidal, loosely spreading, nodding panicle, 20-40 cm long and 5-15 cm wide. The primary panicle branches are drooping. The spikelets (clustered units of flowers and bracts) are solitary and pendulous. The spikelets are pedicelled (have a stalk attaching them to the main stem of the inflorescence); the pedicels are filiform (thread-like).

    The spikelets consist of 2 or 3 fertile florets, and are wedge-shaped, laterally compressed, 22–27 mm long and persistent on the plant. The glumes (empty bracts that enclose the florets) extend past the tip of the florets, and are thinner than the fertile lemma (principal bract enclosing the flower). The upper and lower glumes are both lance-shaped, 22–27 mm long, membranous, without keels and 7–9 -veined.

    The fertile lemma is lance-shaped, leathery, 15–17 mm long, much thinner above, without a keel and is 7–9 -veined. The surface of the lemma is scaly, rough above and hairless. The flowers have three anthers and an ovary which is hairy all over. The fruit is a caryopsis (simple dry fruit) with an adherent pericarp (outer layer). The fruit is hairy all over and has a linear hilum (scar marking the point of attachment).

    Threats and conservation

    Avena sativa is not considered to be threatened.


    In medieval Britain, oats were widely grown for bread, biscuits, and malting, but they now hold their importance only in the wetter parts of northern Europe. Oats have also had an important role since the Roman period as feed for horses. British emigrants introduced oat cultivation to North America in the 17th century, but they have always been a minor cereal outside Europe. Today, the biggest oat-producing countries are the Russian Federation, Canada and the United States. Oat bran is rich in a type of dietary fibre that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, and this has led to increased interest in its consumption. Oat grain is an ingredient in a wide range of food products, such as breakfast cereals, porridge, biscuits, breads and baby foods, and is also used as a meat extender. Oats are also used in external preparations to treat eczema and dry skin.

    Being tolerant of low soil fertility and frost, and requiring low external inputs (such as fertilizers), Avena sativa has been suggested as a potential food and fodder crop for resource-poor farmers in areas such as the highlands of tropical Africa. In some areas, however, such as in Victoria, Australia, parts of North America, and in the Karoo-Namib region of southern Africa, wild oats have become invasive and are a threat to native species of grasses and herbs.

    Red oat or Turkey oat, Avena byzantina , is also descended from A. sterilis . Although sometimes considered to be the same species as A. sativa , red oat is genetically distinct and has a different distribution including, as the name suggests, Turkey. However, red oat has been largely replaced by A. sativa in recent years.

    Four minor cultivated species are derived from wild forms of A. strigosa grown in the western Mediterranean. Bristle oat, A. strigosa , is a fodder plant in central and northern Europe, and is still grown in the Shetland Islands, but is almost extinct. A. brevis and A. hispanica are now very rare crops of southwest Europe. A. nuda is a naked form of oat that threshes free of the tough husk. It has low yields and is not widely cultivated.

    A. abyssinica is only found in Ethiopia. It grows as a tolerated weed of other cereals, mainly barley, and is now in the course of domestication.

    The grass family (Poaceae)

    The grass family (Poaceae, or Gramineae) is one of the most economically important plant families. It provides most of our food in the form of cereals (for example, wheat, rice, barley, oats, millet, maize, sorghum) and sugar (sugar cane). In addition, grasses feed our cattle, provide the basis for most of our alcoholic drinks, as well as building materials (bamboo), thatch, and straw. A number of grasses yield essential oils (lemongrass) and raw materials for cosmetics (oats).

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 31.5 g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)

    Germination testing: Successful

    Composition values: Oil content 4 - 11.8%. Protein content 13.2 - 24.4%


    Oats are very hardy and can be sown in November. At Kew, A. sativa is propagated in pots in a nursery, and seedlings are planted outside as soon as they are large enough to handle, because if kept indoors they can produce leggy growth. A compost mix containing 10% screened and sterilised loam, 45% coir and 45% Silvafibre is used, and Osmocote and Kieserite are added. A. sativa seeds can also be sown in spring, and will complete their life cycle within 12 months.

    Oats at Kew

    Avena sativa can be seen, along with other cereal crops, growing in Kew's Grass Garden by theDavies Alpine House. The best times to visit the Grass Garden are early summer for the annual grasses and cereals, and autumn and winter for the perennial grasses, when these have produced their seed heads.

    This domesticated cereal is widely cultivated in temperate regions.
    Not threatened.

    Oat can be tolerated by most (but not all) people who are gluten intolerant. Oat is frequently processed near other grains (such as wheat), so there are risks associated with contamination from gluten sources.

    A major cereal and fodder crop since ancient times. Oat is an ingredient of a wide range of food products, such as breakfast cereals, porridge, biscuits and breads. Oat is also used in preparations to treat dry skin.



    Found In:

    Iran, Iraq

    Introduced Into:

    Alabama, Alaska, Albania, Alberta, Algeria, Amur, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Argentina South, Arizona, Arkansas, Austria, Baleares, Baltic States, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, British Columbia, Bulgaria, Burundi, California, Canary Is., Cape Provinces, Cape Verde, Central European Rus, Chatham Is., Chile Central, Chile South, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Colombia, Colorado, Connecticut, Corse, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, District of Columbia, Dominican Republic, East European Russia, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Falkland Is., Fiji, Finland, Florida, France, Free State, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guatemala, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Idaho, Illinois, India, Indiana, Iowa, Irkutsk, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jawa, Kamchatka, Kansas, Kazakhstan, Kentucky, Khabarovsk, Kirgizstan, Korea, Kriti, Krym, Kuril Is., Kuwait, KwaZulu-Natal, Laos, Lebanon-Syria, Lesotho, Lesser Sunda Is., Louisiana, Magadan, Maine, Manitoba, Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Is., Maryland, Masachusettes, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Morocco, Myanmar, Nansei-shoto, Nebraska, Netherlands, Nevada, New Brunswick, New Caledonia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New South Wales, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Newfoundland, Norfolk Is., North Carolina, North Caucasus, North Dakota, North European Russi, Northern Provinces, Northwest European R, Northwest Territorie, Norway, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oman, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Pennsylvania, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Primorye, Prince Edward I., Puerto Rico, Queensland, Québec, Rhode I., Sakhalin, Sardegna, Saskatchewan, Sicilia, Sinai, South Australia, South Carolina, South Dakota, South European Russi, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tadzhikistan, Tasmania, Tennessee, Texas, Transcaucasus, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Utah, Uzbekistan, Vermont, Victoria, Vietnam, Virginia, Washington, West Himalaya, West Virginia, Western Australia, Windward Is., Wisconsin, Wyoming, Yugoslavia, Yukon

    Common Names


    Avena sativa L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Gerard, P. [Cat. no. 3794], India K001117227
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 3794], India K001117228

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 79 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [3] Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013) Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist . Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens
    • [5] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [7] (2011) Darwiniana 49: 139-247
    • [9] (2010) Flora of New Zealand , ed. 2, 5: 1-650. R.E.Owen, Government Printer, Wellington
    • [10] (2010) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 1: 1-455. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [11] Clayton, W.D. & Snow, N. (2010) A key to Pacific Grasses . Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [12] (2009) Flora of Australia 44A: 1-410. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra
    • [13] (2009) Indian Journal of Forestry 32: 657-668
    • [14] (2008) Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh 12: 1-505. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
    • [17] (2007) Flora of the Arabian peninsula and Socotra 5(1): 1-387. Edinburgh University Press
    • [18] Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2007) Flora of North America North of Mexico 24: 1-908. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford
    • [19] Newman, M., Ketphanh, S., Svengsuksa, B., Thomas, P., Sengdala, K., Lamxay, V. & Armstrong, K. (2007) A checklist of the vascular plants of Lao PDR . Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
    • [21] Dávila, P., Mejia-Saulés, M.T., Gómez-Sánchez, N., Valdés-Reyna, J., Ortíz, J.J., Morín, C., Castrejón, J. & Ocampo, A. (2006) Catálogo de las Gramíneas de México . CONABIO, México city
    • [22] Takhtajan, A.L. (ed.) (2006) Conspectus Florae Caucasi 2: 1-466. Editio Universitatis Petropolitanae
    • [23] Boulos, L. (2005) Flora of Egypt 4: 1-617. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo
    • [26] (2004) Nouvelle flore de la Belgique du G. D. de Luxembourg, du Nord de la France et des régions voisines , ed. 5: 1-1167. Edition du Patrimoine du Jardin botanique national de Belgique
    • [27] (2003) Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 45: 1-590
    • [28] Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003) Plants of Southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. . National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [30] (2000) Flora of Bhutan 3(2): 457-883. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
    • [32] (1999) Flora of Russia. The European part and bordering regions 1: 1-546. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Broekfield
    • [33] (1999) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 75: i-viii, 1-1181
    • [34] Lee, W.T. (1996) Lineamenta Florae Koreae . Soul T'ukpyolsi: Ak'ademi Sojok
    • [35] (1995) Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 7: 1-430. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps
    • [36] Govaerts, R. (1995) World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 1-529. MIM, Deurne
    • [37] (1994) Flora Mesoamericana 6: 1-543. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F.
    • [38] (1994) Flora of Australia 49: 1-681. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra
    • [39] Dassanayake (ed.) (1994) A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon 8: 1-458. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD., New Delhi, Calcutta
    • [40] (1993) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 45: i-xl, 1-1286
    • [42] (1989) Lejeunia; Revue de Botanique , n.s., 132: 1-127
    • [44] Koyama, T. (1987) Grasses of Japan and its neighboring regions: an identification manual . Kodansha, Tokyo, Japan
    • [45] Davis, P.H. (ed.) (1985) Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands 9: 1-724. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh
    • [46] Kharkevich, S.S., Probatova, N.S. & Novikov, V.S. (1985) Sosudistye rasteniia sovetskogo Dal’nego Vostoka 1: 1-383. Izd-vo "Nauka," Leningradskoe otd-nie, Leningrad
    • [47] Meikle, R.D. (1985) Flora of Cyprus 2: 833-1970. The Bentham-Moxon Trust Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [48] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1980) Flora Europaea 5: 1-452. Cambridge University Press
    • [49] Walker, E.H. (1976) Flora of Okinawa and the southern Ryukyu islands . Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., U.S.A.
    • [50] (1968) Flora of Iraq 9: 1-588. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad


    • [4] Forzza, R.C. & al. (2013) Lista de Espécies da Flora do Brasil . http://floradobrasil.jbrj.gov.br/2010/
    • [6] (2012) Taxon 61: 1336-1345
    • [8] (2011) Folia Malaysiana 12: 47-68
    • [15] (2008) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 107: 1-3348
    • [16] Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
    • [20] Clayton, W.D., Harman, K.T. & Williamson, H. (2006 onwards). GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora.
    • [24] Groves, R.H., Boden, R. and Lonsdale, W.M. (2005). Jumping the garden fence: Invasive garden plants in Australia and their environmental and agricultural impacts. CSIRO report prepared for WWF-Australia. WWF-Australia, Sydney. 173 pp.
    • [25] Prance, G. & Nesbitt, M. (eds) (2005). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge, London.
    • [29] (2002) Botanical Journal of Scotland 54: 153-190
    • [31] H?, P.-H. (2000) Câyc? Vi?tnam. An Illustrated flora of Vietnam , ed. 2, 3: 1-1020. Pham-hoang Ho, Montréal
    • [41] (1993) Sommerfeltia 17: 1-295
    • [43] Karthikeyan, S., Jain, S.K., Nayar, M.P. & Sanjappa, M. (1989) Florae Indicae Enumeratio: Monocotyledonae . Botanical Survey of India, Calcutta
    • [51] Mouterde, P. (1966) Nouvelle Flore du Liban et de la Syrie 1(Texte): 1-563. Éditions de l'imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth
    • [52] (1957) Flora Tadzhikskoi SSR 1: 1-547. Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, Moskva
    • [53] (1950) Flora Kirgizskoi SSR 2: 1-315. Frunze : Izd-vo KirgizFAN SSSR
    • [54] (1941) Flora Uzbekistana 1: 1-566. Izd-va Akademii nauk Uzbekskoi SSR, Tashkent
    • [55] (1932) Flora Turkmenii 1: 1-340. Turkmenskoe gosudarstvennoe izd., Ashkhabad


    GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora
    [A] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
    [B] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [C] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    [E] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0