The Wheat Plant

Wheat is an annual grass, and is found in wild as well as cultivated forms. The wild varieties, however, have no economic value. The cultivated plant is green when young, turning to golden-yellow as it matures. Several jointed stalks develop from each seed and grow to a height of two to six feet (60 cm to 1.8 m). Long, slender leaves grow from each joint, or node.

WheatWheat is a green grass when young, maturing to golden-yellow.

Each stalk ends in a head, or spike, made up of a number of spikelets. The spikelets bear from one to five flowers, which develop into kernels. Wheat spikes are from two to eight inches (5 to 20 cm) long and bear from 20 to 50 kernels. Each kernel is protected by a pair of scalelike leaves, called glumes. Some varieties of wheat are called bearded because they have long bristles growing on the glumes.

WheatWheat stalks end in a spike made up of a number of spikelets.

The kernel is made up of (1) several layers of bran, forming a tough outer coat; (2) the aleurone layer, rich in proteins and minerals; (3) the endosperm, mostly starch, but also containing proteins; and (4) the embryo, or germ, the part that develops into a new plant. The proteins in the endosperm are gliadin and glutenin. They interact to produce gluten, the substance that helps dough to rise, giving bread a light, fine texture. Bran, a good source of B vitamins and fiber, is used in breakfast cereals and in baked goods. Wheat germ is a rich source of vitamin E, and of the B-complex vitamins niacin and riboflavin. Because it does not keep well, and would add color, the wheat germ is usually taken out when wheat is milled for flour or breakfast cereal. It is eaten as a topping on yogurt or breakfast cereal, and in baked goods.