Avena sterilis (winter wild oat)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Avena sterilis L.
Preferred Common Name
- winter wild oat
Other Scientific Names
- Avena ludoviciana Durieu
- Avena macrocarpa Moench
- Avena sterilis subsp. sterilis
International Common Names
- English: animated oat; sterile oat; wild oat
- Spanish: avena caballuna; avena estéril; avena loca
- French: avione animee; avione sterile
- Portuguese: balanco-maior
Local Common Names
- Germany: Schmuck-Hafer; Traub Hafer; Winter Flughafer
- Italy: avena sterile
- Netherlands: haver, loop-
- South Africa: groot wildehawer; red wild oats; rooiwildehawer; tall wild oats; wild oats; wildehawer
- AVEST (Avena sterilis)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page A. sterilis is highly invasive in cultivated and disturbed ground and has probably already invaded many suitable regions of the world. A crop mimic in Avena (oat) crops, it produces prolific seeds that are difficult to separate from grain. Its' life cycle mirrors many annual crops, and chemical control during periods of crop growth is difficult since it is a grass. There is probably still some potential for invasion of temperate, subtropical or semi arid regions where it is currently rare or absent.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Avena
- Species: Avena sterilis
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page A number of Avena species, including both weeds and crops, have a similar ecology and morphology and occur in temperate, arid and sub-tropical regions. The genus includes cultivated oats (Avena sativa). A. sterilis itself contains several widely-distributed sub-species, including A. sterilis subsp. sterilis, A. sterilis subsp. ludoviciana, A. sterilis subsp. atherantha, and A. sterilis subsp. macrocarpa (Garcia-Baudin et al. 1981; Scholz, 1991). A. sterilis subsp. trichophylla is possibly endemic to Corsica (Jeanmonod and Burdet, 1998).
Garcia-Baudin et al. (1981) recognized six distinct morphological groups within A. sterilis but did not describe them as sub-species.
Common names often refer to movement of the plant and panicle in the wind: for example, avoine animée ('animated oat' in French), and avena loca ('crazy oat' in Spanish).
DescriptionTop of page A. sterilis is a stout broad-leaved annual grass resembling cultivated oats in general appearance (Ivens, 1989).
Stem to 1.5 m height, tufted, erect, rarely geniculate, not branching, not rooting at the nodes, nodes sometimes hairy. Leaf blades 60 cm long, 6-14 mm wide, 30-40 times as long as wide, linear, not hairy. Ligule 2 mm long, membranous, truncate, sheath often on lower leaves. Inflorescence an equilateral or slightly one-sided panicle, 15-45 cm long, 8-25 cm wide. Spikelets with 2-5 florets of which only the lowest has a basal scar, pedicelled, disarticulating above the glumes, but not between the florets. Glumes equal, 30-50 mm long, 9-11 nerved. Lemmas 15-40 mm long, 7 nerved, bidentate, the uppermost awnless, the lower two with a 5-8 cm long bent and twisted dorsal awn (Hafliger and Scholz, 1981; Ivens, 1989; Stace, 1997).
The sub-species sterilis differs from sub-species ludoviciana by the larger size of some reproductive parts (spikelets with 3-5 florets; longer glume 32-45 mm; lemmas 25-33 mm; ligule greater than 5 mm) (Stace, 1997).
Plant TypeTop of page Annual
Grass / sedge
DistributionTop of page A. sterilis is widely distributed within suitable climatic zones, being found in: parts of the USA; Central and South America; southern, eastern and northern Africa; the Iberian Peninsula; central and southeastern Europe; the Middle East; the Indian subcontinent; the Mediterranean region (Floc'h, 1991); the Caucasus (Soldatov and Loskutov, 1991); and the Himalayas (Pandey et al., 1998).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 23 Apr 2020
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page A. sterilis is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, and has been introduced into central and northern Europe and many other regions via seed contamination of wool and grain (Stace, 1997).
Turkey is a centre of isoenzyme diversity in A. sterilis (Phillips et al., 1993). It has also been suggested that the Caucasus, particularly Azerbaijan, is one of the main centres of distribution and diversity of wild and weedy species of the genus Avena, in a study including A. sterilis (Soldatov and Loskutov, 1991).
HabitatTop of page The native habitat of A. sterilis is disturbed ground, arable areas and roadsides, originally in southern Europe and the Mediterranean region (Stace, 1997). The plant is now found in these habitats world-wide in temperate, subtropical and semiarid regions (Das and Yaduraju, 2002; Fenni et al., 2002; O'Donnell et al., 2002).
In western Europe, A. sterilis usually occurs on heavier soils, replacing the similar species A. fatua on this soil type (Stace, 1997).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page A. sterilis is principally a weed of arable crops, particularly cereals.
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page Post-harvest, Seedling stage, Vegetative growing stage
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
Chromosome number: 2n=42 (Stace, 1997).
In addition to crosses between A. sterilis subspecies, A. sterilis hybridizes with other Avena species such as A. sativa (Sereno-Tavares et al.,1995; Mariot et al., 1999) and A. nuda (Yu et al., 1998).
Physiology and Phenology
Seeds can lie dormant for up to 5 years under soil (Terry, 1984), although Sanchez del Arco et al. (1995) reported that viability in soil of a naturally-occurring infestation at Alcala de Henares, Spain, was for a maximum of 23-24 months. High temperature and soil water stress during seed maturation markedly reduce seed dormancy. Straw burning and cultivation can also lead to reduced dormancy, while plants which survive late applications of benzoylprop-ethyl or flamprop-isopropyl herbicides are also shown to produce less seed of lower viability and reduced dormancy (Peters and Wilson, 1980).
Smoke stimulates germination in A. sterilis (Adkins et al., 2000). Germination temperature ranges from a minimum of 2°C to a maximum of 30°C, with an optimum of 10° (Üremis and Uyagur, 1999). Other authors have reported optimum germination temperatures of 15°C (Mennan and Uygur, 1996) and 25°C (Hassanein et al., 1996). Differences in optima may reflect adaptation to local conditions throughout the wide range of this species.
Gibberellic acid and potassium nitrate increase the percentage germination, whereas 2,4-D causes a decrease (Mennan and Uygur, 1996).
Germination in A sterilis is inhibited by low osmotic potential more than germination of related species such as A. fatua (Fernandez-Quintanilla et al., 1990).
Reproduction of A. sterilis is by seed. Each plant can produce up to 200 seeds, although Fernandez-Quintanilla et al. (1986) reported that average adult fecundity of a natural population in central Spain varied from 13 to 21 seeds/plant. Sanchez del Arco et al. (1995) reported a weed population of 298 panicles/m² giving a total seed production of 2828 seeds/m².
Suitable climates include temperate climates with winter or summer rainfall, and sub-tropical climate with mainly summer rainfall (Wells et al., 1986).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Mean annual rainfall||0||0||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Winter
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page A. sterilis shows variable susceptibility to barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), with resistant lines more prevalent in certain countries or areas within a country (Comeau, 1982). It is a host for Sclerophthora macrospora (Singh and Bedi, 1991). It is also susceptible to crown rust (Puccinia coronata f.sp. avenae) and stem rust (caused by Puccinia graminis f. sp. avenae ), which are considered the most widespread and damaging diseases of Avena spp. (Niekerk et al., 2001).
A. sterilis is a host for Ditylenchus dipsaci (Nematoda) a pest of vegetable crops in the Mediterranean region (Abbad Andaloussi and Bachikh, 2001). It is also susceptible to Pratylenchus neglectus and a possible fallow/rotation host for this pest (Vanstone and Russ, 2001).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page Natural Dispersal (Non-biotic)
Wind is of little significance in dispersal of A. sterilis (Terry, 1984).
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
Birds and other animals collect, store and drop A. sterilis seeds (Terry, 1984).
Anthropogenic dispersal is of great significance: A. sterilis has spread in Europe as a seed and wool contaminant (Stace, 1997). There is likely to be much international movement of the weed seed as a grain contaminant; it has been detected in imported wheat in India (Singh, 2001). Terry (1984) also lists contamination of machinery, grain sacks, straw, hay, fodder grain and livestock with the seeds of this species as likely mechanisms of transmission.
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds|
|Growing medium accompanying plants||seeds|
|Seedlings/Micropropagated plants||whole plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches||seeds|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||seeds|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page A. sterilis is a contaminant of cereal grain and seeds (Malik et al., 1985). It competes with and reduces yield in arable crops, and is a principal arable weed in many areas of the world.
A. sterilis is increasing in importance in Italy (Speranza et al., 1990) and is an important weed in Spain (Recasens et al., 1996), and in vineyards in Lagoa (Portugal) (Caiado, 1992). Walia et al. (2001) recorded wheat losses of between 1.06 and 15% with 3 wild oat plants/m², up to 30-40% loss with 10 wild oat plants/m² and nearly 50% loss with 30 wild oat plants/m². In another experiment, A. sterilis competition caused an average wheat yield loss of 35% in India (Walia and Brar, 2001).
A. sterilis is the most common and dense weed in wheat fields of Cukurova, Turkey (Kadiolu et al., 1998), and a locally important weed in Diyarbakir province, Turkey (Demir and Tepe, 2001). It is also considered a major weed of arable crops in the NW Himalayas by Pandey et al. (1998).
Ninety-eight out of 121 paddocks sampled by O'Donnell et al. (2002) in the northern grain-growing region of Australia were dominated by A. sterilis. Terry (1984) reports that 30-40,000 hectares of cereal-growing land in E. Africa are infested with wild oats (including both A. sterilis and A. fatua) and that this species is one of the most serious threats to wheat and barley production in East Africa.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page A. sterilis has been used to increase resistance of a cultivated oat strain to Puccinia coronata through introgression (Brinkman et al., 1989).
The possible use of A. sterilis and other weeds for vegetation renovation in degraded semi-arid pasture has been investigated (Ichizen et al., 1993).
Uses ListTop of page
- Gene source for disease resistance
- Gene source for high yields
- Poisonous to mammals
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page A. sterilis is broadly similar in morphology and habitats to A. fatua. Both species have rachilla disarticulating at maturity at least above the glumes, often also between florets, hence at least the lowest floret has a basal scar; lemmas with long, strongly-bent awns, usually pubescent. In A. sterilis, the rachilla disarticulates at maturity above the glumes only, releasing 2-3-fruited disseminules, hence only the lowest floret has a (ovate) basal scar. However, in A. fatua the rachilla disarticulates at maturity between the florets, releasing 1-fruited disseminules each with an ovate basal scar. The longer glume in A. sterilis is mostly 25-30 mm, compared with 18-25 mm in A. fatua (Stace, 1997).
Also morphologically similar is A. insularis but this species can be distinguished by its smaller and more condensed panicle, less V-shaped dispersal unit, and oblong disarticulation scar (Ladizinsky, 1998).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.Cultural Control
A. sterilis can be controlled by strategic crop rotations, using summer crops to compress A. sterilis emergence and facilitate easier chemical control (Purvis, 1990).
Soil solarization completely controlled A. sterilis in arable fields in New Delhi, India (Yaduraju and Ahuja, 1996). Terry (1984) recommends early cultivation to promote a germination flush of Avena spp., with weed seedlings being destroyed by further cultivation before sowing crop seed. Hand-pulling of established plants can also be used.
Increasing the crop sowing rate can be used to reduce weed impact. Terry (1984) recommends doubling the sowing rate in areas infested with Avena spp.
Control via crop rotation is best achieved by a crop which allows maximum weed emergence followed by total elimination of seed shedding, such as cereals cut green for forage (Terry, 1984).
Hand-weeding to remove A. sterilis at 3 and 4 weeks after sowing the crop gave the highest crop yield in a study in India, but narrow row spacing (15 cm) and cross-sowing of rows also significantly reduced weed density (Sharma et al., 1989).
Pre-crop-emergence applications of herbicide may not be effective, since A. sterilis may establish later than the crop but thereafter exhibit a faster rate of growth (Thomas and Yaduraju, 2000).
Correct timing and rate of herbicide application is critical to maximize control of partially resistant wild oats. Full rates applied to early growth stages (2-3 leaves) have been shown to be capable of good control. Later applications give poorer control (Moss et al., 2001).
Atrazine, barban, chlorfenprop, difenzoquat, EPTC, glyphosate, linuron, metribuzin, metoxuron and monolinuron give control or suppression of Avena spp. (Terry, 1984). Imazamethabenz gives good to complete control of emerged A. sterilis in various cropping systems including barley (Navarrete and Fernandez-Quintanilla, 1990).
Isoproturon provides satisfactory control of A. sterilis (Balyan, 2001), and no resistance to this herbicide has been detected (Moss et al., 2001). There has also been no resistance found to tri-allate or difenzoquat (Moss et al., 2001).
Sulfosulfuron is safe to apply to bread wheat and gave an effective level of control (87%) of A. sterilis (Hamal et al., 2000). Applying trifluralin and fluchloralin gave an effective level of control of a range of weeds including A. sterilis at Ludhiana, India (Sandhu et al., 1998).
Less effective compounds
Effective control by the 'fop' (aryloxyphenoxypropionate) compounds was reported in the 1990s for herbicides such as fluazifop-p, haloxyfop, fenoxaprop and diclofop-methyl (Terry, 1984; Singh and Singh, 1998; Singh and Yadav, 1998; Fenni et al., 2001b) but a number of other reports indicate resistance and advise against sole use of fops for controlling A. sterilis (Mansooji et al., 1992; Moss et al., 2001; Sattin et al., 2001).
Of the 'dim' (cyclohexanedione) compounds, cycloxydim gave effective control of A. sterilis in durum wheat crops in Italy (Tallevi et al., 1998). However, Mansooji et al. (1992) detected low levels of resistance to sethoxydim, tralkoxydim and cycloxydim, and more recently Moss et al. (2001) recommended the avoidance of sole use of 'dims' to prevent the spread of resistance.
Jones and Medd (1997) provide evidence that integrated management of A. sterilis, aimed at minimizing the size of the soil seed bank, is the most economically rational approach to its control.
Milling of animal feed before distribution, use of clean seed for planting, avoidance of straw/hay from contaminated areas, and thorough cleaning of machinery after use is likely to prevent the spread of A. sterilis (Terry, 1984).
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