Wheat is an annual cereal grass (genus Triticum) that achieves a height of 2 to 3 feet and is then harvested and milled. It is grown in 42 U.S. states and is very important to the nation's food supply, as evidenced by the phrase "amber waves of grain" in the song "America the Beautiful." Of the many different types of wheat, the most popular are used in bread, pasta and cake flours.

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The Parts of a Wheat Plant

Kernel

The kernel is the seed of the wheat plant and is housed in the head (or spike, when speaking of an immature plant). The kernel, or wheatberry, is composed of three parts: the endosperm (soluble fiber), the bran (insoluble fiber) and the germ (the sprouting section of the seed). The bulk of the kernel is the endosperm, the main source of white flour.

Beard

The bristly material that protects the wheat kernel is called the beard. Not all wheat grasses have this; those that don't are called awnless. The benefits of not having wheat beards are twofold. Inclement weather does not prove as damaging to growing crops, as awnless varieties are less dusty. Awnless wheat is easier for livestock to graze on as well. Today, both awned and awnless wheats are frequently dried and used in cut flower arrangements.

Stem

Like most plants, wheat grasses have stems that support the head of the plant. These stems are hollow and become straw after the kernel is harvested. Some farmers grow wheat for straw production only. Straw is used as mulch (frequently for strawberries), animal bedding and feed, and decoration (in straw bales at Halloween, for instance).

Leaves

The leaves of the wheat grass plant are long and thin. They protect the head of the plant and gather light for photosynthesis. The main protector is called the flag leaf. It is the topmost and youngest leaf on the stem. The flag leaf emerges when at least three nodes (joint stems) are noticeable above the soil and provides proof of a plant's maturity.

Roots

The roots' main purpose is to gather nourishment from the soil so the wheat plant grows strong and healthy. Deep and fast root growth is ideal. The primary root system begins when the seed germinates and provides nutrients for the wheat seedlings. As the plant matures, the secondary permanent root system replaces the primary root system and provides stability.