Avena sativa L.

First published in Sp. Pl.: 79 (1753)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is a cultigen from W. Asia. It is an annual and grows primarily in the temperate biome. It is used to treat unspecified medicinal disorders, as animal food, a poison and a medicine, has environmental uses and for food.


Morphology General Habit
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences Spikelets
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences Bracts Glume
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Florets
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Anthers 3. Ovary pubescent all over.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
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.

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia. http://www.biovirtual.unal.edu.co/nombrescomunes/

avena, cebada santafereña

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.


Biogeografic region: Andean. Elevation range: 2000–3000 m a.s.l. Naturalised in Colombia. Colombian departments: Bogotá DC, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Nariño.
Habitat according IUCN Habitats Classification: forest and woodland, shrubland, artificial - terrestrial.

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Nativa en Colombia. Naturalizada y adventicia en Colombia; Alt. 2000 - 3000 m.; Andes.
Morphology General Habit
Hierba Hierba
No Evaluada No Evaluada

The Useful Plants of Boyacá project

Alt. 2000 - 3000 m.
Morphology General Habit
Introduced and naturalised in Colombia.
Not Evaluated.


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.

Use Animal Food
Used as animal food.
Use Environmental
Environmental uses.
Use Gene Sources
Used as gene sources.
Use Food
Used for food.
Use Materials
Used as material.
Use Medicines
Medical uses.
Use Poisons

Use Gene Sources
Crop wild relatives which may possess beneficial traits of value in breeding programmes (State of the World's Plants 2016).
Use Materials Fibres
Used for crafts (Linares 1994).
Use Materials Unspecified Materials Chemicals
Materials (State of the World's Plants 2016).
Use Medicines
Medicinal (State of the World's Plants 2016, Instituto Humboldt 2014).
Use Medicines Unspecified Medicinal Disorders
Medicinal (State of the World's Plants 2016, Instituto Humboldt 2014).

Common Names



  • Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible

    • ColPlantA 2021. Published on the Internet at http://colplanta.org
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora

    • Clayton, W.D., Vorontsova, M.S., Harman, K.T. and Williamson, H. (2006 onwards). GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora.
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Science Photographs

    • Copyright applied to individual images
  • Kew Species Profiles

    • Kew Species Profiles
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Universidad Nacional de Colombia

    • ColPlantA database
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Useful Plants of Boyacá Project

    • ColPlantA database
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/