Rye, an annual plant of the grass family. Like corn and wheat, it is a cereal, or grain. Hardier than any other small grain except for barley, rye is widely grown in northern temperate regions of the world, as far north as the Arctic Circle. It thrives in fertile soil and in a mild climate, but also produces good crops in sandy, acid soil, in cold climates, or at high altitudes. It is not grown only in northern countries, however. Some rye is cultivated in Australia, South America, and Africa.

Rye grain is used chiefly for bread flour, but is also fed to livestock. It is used to make several types of alcoholic beverages as wellrye whiskey in the United States and Canada, gin in the Netherlands, and a beer called kvass in Russia. The young, green plant is often used for forage or dried for hay. The straw (mature stem), which is tough, wiry, and rot-resistant, is used for thatching, as bedding for cattle, and for making hats, mats, and paper.

The food value of rye grain is approximately the same as that of wheat. Rye consists of 73 per cent carbohydrates (wheat about 70 per cent), 12 per cent protein, and 10 per cent water. Fat and minerals occur in small quantities.

Rye is believed to be native to the regions around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It apparently came into cultivation later than other cereals. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but was not widely grown until the Middle Ages.

The Rye Plant

The plant grows about six to eight feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) tall. The leaves are long and grasslike and, like the stems, are bluish-green. The stems are topped by slender spikes (flower heads) bearing numerous spikelets of tiny flowers that ripen into one-seeded fruits, called kernels, or grains. The kernels are hard and pointed and may be brown, gray, green, or yellow. The grain headsthe mature flower headsare longer than are those of other cereal plants, and are more heavily bearded. (Bearded grain heads are those in which the grain kernels are protected by scalelike leaves that end in long bristles.)

Rye is planted either in spring or in autumn, depending upon climate. The seed is usually drilled into the soil, but in some regions it is broadcast instead. The crop may be cut with a reaper-binder, or it may be cut and threshed in a single operation with a combine.

Rye plantsRye plants are topped by slender spikes bearing tiny flowers that ripen into grains.
Diseases and Pests

Ergot, a fungus, is the most serious disease of rye. Ergot is the cause of the human disease called Saint Anthony's fire. Other fungus diseases, including head blight and various rusts and smuts, also attack rye.

The chinch bug, which sucks the juices of grass plants, is the chief insect enemy of rye. Other pests are the wheat stem sawfly and the Hessian fly.

Rye is Secale cereale of the grass family, Gramineae.