Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wild oat

When I took this picture, the sun was shining over the fields and the wild oats appeared to be golden just like in the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin in which the miller boasts that her daughter can spin straw into gold.

Avena fatua field on Samos

Avena fatua (L. 1753) known as the common wild oat, is a species of grass in the oat genus. Avena (feminine noun) is the Spanish word for oat and fatua means delusive, misleading or deceptive. A. fatua looks quite similar to the cultivated oat Avena sativa.

Avena is a genus of plants in the grass family Poaceae and they are collectively known as the oats. They include species like A. sativa which have been cultivated for thousands of years as a food source for humans and livestock. All oats have edible seeds, though they are small and hard to harvest in most species.

Among the oats, the common oat A. sativa is the most cultivated cereal grain of commercial importance. Four other species of Avena are grown as crops of minor or regional importance. The wild ancestor of A. sativa and the closely related minor crop Avena byzantina is the Aavena sterilis which grew in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. A. byzantina, a minor crop in Greece and the Middle East is introduced in Spain, Algeria, India, New Zealand, South America, etc.

Top A. sativa growing countries are Russia and Canada.

About 17 species of Avena occur in the wild that are known as wild oats or oat-grasses.

A. fatua is a typical oat in appearance, a green grass with hollow, erect stems 30-120 cm tall bearing inflorescence of panicles (much branched) with pedicelled (stemmed) spikelets (tight masses of grain). However, A. sativa, the cultivated oat, has denser panicles and the florets do not readily separate and shed.

The leaf blades are dark green, up to 1 cm wide and up to 40 cm long and rough due to small hairs, with a membraneous ligule (the thin outgrowth at the junction of leaf and stem) 1-6 mm long and often irregularly toothed sheaths (the leaf base when it forms a vertical coating surrounding the stem) smooth or slightly hairy, especially in younger plants.

As a specific trait of the Avena species, the lemmas (bracts enclosing the grain) have 2 to 3 awns (long bristles) arising from the back that are 3 to 4 cm long. The awn of the A. fatua seed twists into a helix (spiral) on drying and untwists when wet, thereby drilling the seed into the soil.

A cosmopolitan grass species, the wild oat A. fatua has been introduced to most of the temperate regions of the world, especially where cereals are grown. It is believed to have originated in Eurasia and has been associated with the cultivation of oats and other cereals since the early Iron Age. There are two hypotheses about the origin of A. fatua. The first, most widely accepted hypothesis states that A. fatua originated from the cultivated A. sativa, which is derived from A. sterilis. The reverse hypothesis suggests that A. sterilis and A. fatua are ancestors of A. sativa. A. fatua and its subspecies are well adapted to the life cycle and growth of spring cereals, but are also abundant in winter cereals.

Wild oats growing alongside cultivated oats in agricultural fields are considered nuisance weeds competing with crop production. 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.

A. fatua is also common in other rotation crops, on pasture, in vineyards and on wasteland. It is especially common in the following crops: wheat, barley, rye, oats, rice, maize, potatoes, oilseed rape, sugar beet, sugarcane, sorghum, cotton, tea, peas, lentils, alfalfa, soy beans, flax and sunflowers.

In the northern hemisphere, A. fatua germinates mainly in spring and to a lesser extent in autumn. It has been reported to germinate over a wide range of temperatures (5-30°C), with optimum germination around 15°C.

Many subspecies of A. fatua requiring different climatic and soil conditions have been identified. Other species of Avena are not as widespread as A. fatua, but they are also troublesome in some countries. The whole species seems to be troublesome wherever cereals are grown in locations with an annual rainfall of 375 to 750 mm. A.fatua grows on nearly all soil types. It forms a large root system with a high uptake of phosphorus and nitrogen. It has an annual life cycle and produces up to 1000 seeds per plant. (


The wild oat A.fatua is one of my familiar weeds that I’m accustomed to seeing frequently everywhere I go. When its dry panicles turn yellow it glows more noticeably in the sun.

As a species we humans have been merciless about the endless demands we make on nature and our indiscriminate use of means to obtain what we want. I dedicate this post to the generous bounty of the astonishing planet Earth that we belong to. May it sustain all life for millions of years to come.

Rolled oats-oat kernels that have been de-husked, steamed and then rolled into flat flakes under heavy rollers before being stabilized (disrupting rancidification and the germ so that it can’t sprout) by being lightly toasted.

And…. I say goodbye to my precious readers, now that I am taking a break from recounting details and memories about my favorite plants to perhaps begin anew at a later date.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Common names for this flower are daffodil or narcissus. I enjoy the double-flowered narcissi, the varieties that have extra petals.

Narcissi-the plural form of the common name narcissus causes some confusion.

The exact origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word meaning intoxicated and the myth of the youth of that name who fell in love with his own reflection. According to the myth, Narcissus, the beautiful youth, became so obsessed with his own reflection in water that he drowned and the narcissus plant sprang from where he died. The name Narcissus was not uncommon for men in ancient Europe.

There is, however, no evidence for the flower being named for the youth. Narcissus poeticus, one of the first narcissi to be cultivated, grows in Greece and it was described to have an intoxicating fragrance. Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus [AD 23-AD 79] who was a Roman naturalist among other things) wrote that the plant was named for its fragrance not the youth. Furthermore, there were accounts of narcissi growing long before the story of Narcissus appeared.

                                    The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali based on Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo

It has also been suggested that daffodils bending over streams represent the youth admiring his reflection.

Narcissi were well known in ancient Greece and Rome, both medicinally and botanically, but the flower was formally described by Carl von Linné in his Species Plantarum (1753). Linné used the Latin name 'narcissus' for the plant which was preceded by others actually.

Narcissus is a genus of spring perennial plants in the Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis) family. The flowers are generally white or yellow, with either, uniform or contrasting colored tepals and corona (the outermost whorls of the flower parts are called tepals when the sepals and petals are not of unequal appearance. The corona is the ring of structures forming between the tepals and the stamen).

With a long history of breeding, thousands of different cultivars of narcissi have been created. For horticultural purposes, narcissi are classified into groups covering a wide range of shapes.

Estimates of the number of species in Narcissus have varied widely, from anywhere between 16 and almost 160 even in the modern era. The evolutionary history within the genus of Narcissus still remains relatively unsettled. “Taxonomy-the naming-has been complex and difficult to resolve due to the diversity of the wild species, the ease with which natural hybridization occurs, and extensive cultivation and breeding accompanied by escape and naturalisation. Consequently, the number of accepted species varies widely.” (

The double-flowered narcissi that I prefer have names like bridal crown, double cheerfulness, white lion, narcissus alba, double star or Wintston Churchill. A Churchill narcissus? Double narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ is a fragrant, late-blooming variety registered in 1966. It was named as a tribute to the United Kingdom’s Winston Churchill.

The double-flowered trait is often noted alongside the scientific name with the abbreviation fl. pl. (flore pleno, Latin for ‘with full flower’). The double-flower is in fact the first documented abnormality in flowers. It was first observed thousands of years ago.

                                                                                 Narcissi, Hortus Eystettensis 1613

‘Double-flowered’ describes varieties of flowers with extra petals, often containing flowers within flowers. In some double-flowered varieties all of the reproductive organs are converted to petals and as a result, they are sexually sterile and must be propagated through cuttings. Many double-flowered plants have little wildlife value as access to the nectaries-glands producing a rich liquid-is typically blocked because of the mutation.

Narcissus is a genus of ‘perennial herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes’ which means after flowering the plant dies back to an underground storage bulb and re-sprouts when the time comes.

The plants are scapose, having a single central leafless hollow flower stem (scape). Several green or blue-green, narrow, strap-shaped leaves arise from the bulb. The plant stem usually bears a solitary flower, but occasionally a cluster of flowers-an umbel.

                                      Photographs:Tülay Karayazgan

I don’t know how they determine this but it is noted that the genus Narcissus arose millions of years ago. Although the Amaryllidaceae family are predominantly tropical or subtropical as a whole, Narcissus occurs primarily in the Mediterranean region, with a center of diversity in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The species are native to meadows and woods, river banks and rocky crevices. Narcissus has been naturalized in the Far East and Great Britain which are believed to be early introductions. Different species grow in many places from Europe all the way to the Near East. Historical accounts suggest narcissi have been cultivated from the earliest times, but became increasingly popular in Europe after the 16th century and by the late 19th century were an important commercial crop in the Netherlands.

In Turkey narcissus is farmed in Karaburun and Mordoğan in the Aegean Region. Mostly the double-flower varieties are grown and they usually bloom at the end of December, beginning of January.

The beauty lives on……

                                   Narcissus 'White Lion' (div. 4. Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid, España. March 2010 by Cillas)

                                        Narcissus 'Bridal Crown' (Div. 4 March 2005 by de:Benutzer:BS Thurner Hof)