cereal plant of the genus Triticum
of the family Poaceae (grass
family), a major food and an important commodity on the world grain market.
Wheat Varieties and Their Uses
The wheat plant is an annual, probably derived from a perennial; the ancestry of and precise distinctions between species are no longer always clear. For its early growth wheat thrives best in cool weather, though plant breeders have developed durum strains that thrive in hot weather. Among the more ancient, and now less frequently cultivated, species are einkorn (T. monococcum), emmer (T. dicoccum), and spelt (T. spelta). Modern wheat varieties are usually classified as winter wheats (fall-planted and unusually winter hardy for grain crops) and spring wheats. Approximately three fourths of the wheat grown in the United States is winter wheat.
Flour from hard wheats (varieties evolved for the most part from T. aestivum) contains a high percentage of gluten and is used to make bread and fine cakes. The hardest-kerneled wheat is durum (T. durum); its flour is primarily used in the manufacture of macaroni, spaghetti, and other pasta products. White- and soft-wheat varieties are paler and have starchy kernels; their flour is preferred for piecrust, biscuits, and breakfast foods. Wheat is used in the manufacture of whiskey and beer, and the grain, the bran (the residue from milling), and the vegetative plant parts make valuable livestock feed. Before the introduction of corn into Europe, wheat was the principal source of starch for sizing paper and cloth.
Diseases and Pests
Wheat is susceptible to many pests and diseases, the more destructive including rust
, bunt (see smut
), and the Hessian fly
and chinch bug
. All wheat-producing countries carry on breeding experiments to improve existing varieties or to obtain new ones with such dominant characteristics as disease resistance, increased hardiness under specific environments, and greater yield.
Wheat Production Today
The great wheat-producing countries of the world are the United States, China, and Russia; extensive wheat growing is carried on also in India, W Europe, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. In the United States the wheat belt covers the Ohio Valley, the prairie states, and E Oregon and Washington; Kansas leads the states in production. Large-scale mechanized farming and continued planting of wheat without regard to crop rotation have exhausted the soil of large areas. High-yield wheat, one of the grains resulting from the Green Revolution
, requires optimal growth conditions, e.g., adequate irrigation and high concentrations of fertilizer.
Wheat was one of the first of the grains domesticated by humans (see grain
). Its cultivation began in the Neolithic period
; some ancient species of wheat were domesticated by 10,000 years ago in what is now Turkey. A millennium later wheat had spread to the Near East, and it was cultivated in Egypt by 5000 B.C. By way of Iran, wheat reached India around 4000 B.C. and China around 2000 B.C. About 8,000 years ago it arrived in Greece from Turkey, and then spread throughout Europe, reaching Britain around 3000 B.C. The civilizations of W Asia and of the European peoples have been largely based on wheat, while rice
has been more important in E Asia. Since agriculture began, wheat has been the chief source of bread for Europe and the Middle East. It was introduced into Mexico by the Spaniards c.1520 and into Virginia by English colonists early in the 17th cent.
Wheat is classified in the division Magnoliophyta
, class Liliopsida, order Cyperales, family Poaceae (Gramineae).
See publications issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; P. T. Dondlinger, The Book of Wheat (1908, repr. 1973); L. T. Evans and W. J. Peacock, ed. Wheat Science: Today and Tomorrow (1981).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
Wheat is a primordial basic food. The nature of wheat is such that it has been given symbolic meaning in mythology and religion. It is considered the fruit of the Earth, a gift of life and the gift of the gods. It is associated with purity, covenant, and blessing. It may also be considered the basic food of immortality. In Greek mythology, a single grain of wheat was displayed at the wedding of Zeus and Demeter. Demeter was a great mother, a fertility goddess, and was responsible for the seasons. A grain of wheat was symbolic of the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life. When planted, one grain of wheat produces many on an ear of wheat. As a dream symbol, it may be pointing to your inner “food, ” or the abundance that the unconscious holds. It may also represent the “plenty” that surrounds you in your daily life. Wheat may symbolize abundance and its ability to continuously regenerate itself. This dream may be a reminder from the unconscious, which tells us that abundance and prosperity is in our nature, as is rebirth of thepsychological, emotional, and spiritual type.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.