The wheat plant (Triticum spp.) is a member of the grass family that has been eaten by humans for thousands of years. A cereal crop that originated in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, the wheat plant has many parts. According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, wheat is grown in 42 states in the United Sates.
A grain used in products like bread, pastries, pasta and pizza, wheat is a main crop for farmers in the Great Plains of the United States, and it is also grown in many countries around the world, including Canada, China, Russia, India and Germany. Wheat kernels are the parts of the plants that humans eat, but wheat plants produce many other structures before they produce the dry fruit called a kernel.
What Is Wheat?
Considered a cereal grain, wheat was first grown in the United States in 1777, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The hard, dry fruits of a wheat plant are called wheat kernels, and wheat is harvested when the kernels are mature. Wheat kernels are kept dry in grain storage facilities like silos or bins until they are needed. Wheat is grown to feed humans and for farm animals like cows and chickens.
In the United States, one acre of wheat yields about 40 bushels, which is equal to over 2,000 pounds of wheat. After harvest, wheat is kept dry until it is time for milling, which is the process of turning the kernels into flour.
There are many types of wheat, including hard, soft, red, white and durum varieties. Each type of wheat has its own unique flavor and protein profile, making some varieties best for bread production and others more suited to animal feed.
Parts of a Wheat Plant
Before a wheat plant makes a kernel, it must establish roots and grow leaves to support the production of a dry fruit. The first step in the growth of a wheat plant is germination, which is the point when the radicle and seminal roots begin to grow from the seed, which is the wheat kernel. Next emerges the coleoptile, which is a sheath that grows from the wheat kernel to protect the first leaf as it extends through the soil.
After the first true leaf grows through the coleoptile, a wheat plant will grow about seven or eight more leaves, according to University of Minnesota Extension. The last leaf that a wheat plant produces is called the flag leaf.
As the leaves emerge from a wheat plant, tillers also form at the base of the plant. Tillers are shoots that grow off to the sides of the wheat plant that produce their own leaves and roots. Meanwhile, wheat heads are growing on stems deep within the flag leaf. These stems elongate and produce a head, which is the flower of a wheat plant. Once these heads are pollinated and fertilized, the wheat plant begins to make a wheat kernel.
Parts of a Wheat Kernel
Wheat kernels are also called wheat berries, and these seeds are the parts of the plant that are harvested to make flour. There are three main parts in a wheat kernel: endosperm, bran and germ.
The largest part of a wheat kernel is the endosperm, which is about 83 percent of the kernel weight, according to North Dakota State University. White flour is made from the endosperm of a wheat kernel, where most of the protein and carbohydrates in the seed are found.
At about 14 percent of the weight of a wheat kernel, bran is the second largest part. Bran is found in whole wheat flour and is high in fiber. The smallest part of a wheat kernel, at about 2.5 percent of the kernel weight, is the germ, which is the high-fat sprouting part of a seed. Germ is also included in whole wheat flour, but both bran and germ are separated from the endosperm during the milling process to make white flour.
About the Author
Meg Schader is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Cornell University and a Master of Professional Studies in environmental studies from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Along with freelancing, she also runs a small farm with her family in Central New York.
Kevin Lallier: Flickr.com