Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Avena sterilis
(winter wild oat)



Avena sterilis (winter wild oat)


  • Last modified
  • 27 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Avena sterilis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • winter wild oat
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • 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...

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A. sterilis inflorescences above a wheat crop in Jordan.
CaptionA. sterilis inflorescences above a wheat crop in Jordan.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
A. sterilis inflorescences above a wheat crop in Jordan.
InflorescencesA. sterilis inflorescences above a wheat crop in Jordan.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK


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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

EPPO code

  • AVEST (Avena sterilis)

Summary of Invasiveness

Top 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 Tree

Top 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 Nomenclature

Top 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).


Top 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 Type

Top of page Annual
Grass / sedge
Seed propagated


Top 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 Table

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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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
AzerbaijanPresentNativeSoldatov and Loskutov, 1991
ChinaPresentZhang et al., 1999
IndiaPresentNativeSingh, 2001
-OdishaPresentPanda and Patnaik, 1996
IranPresentNativeBeer et al., 1993
IraqPresentNativeBeer et al., 1993
IsraelRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
JapanPresentNativeZhang et al., 1999
JordanPresentNativeQasem, 1996
LebanonRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
PakistanRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
Saudi ArabiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
SyriaPresentNativeBeer et al., 1993


AlgeriaRestricted distributionNativeFenni et al., 2001a; Holm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
EgyptRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
EthiopiaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
KenyaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; Ivens, 1989; EPPO, 2014
MoroccoRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; Tanji, 1997; EPPO, 2014
TanzaniaPresentIvens, 1989
TunisiaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014

North America

-CaliforniaPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2002
-New JerseyPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2002
-OregonPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2002
-PennsylvaniaPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2002

Central America and Caribbean

Saint Kitts and NevisRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014

South America

ArgentinaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
-Rio Grande do SulPresentDillenburg, 1984
PeruRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014


BulgariaPresentNativeDelipavlov, 1999
FranceRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
GreeceRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
PortugalWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1979; Costa, 1988; Caiado et al., 1992; EPPO, 2014
Russian FederationRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
SpainPresentNativeRecasens et al., 1990
UKRestricted distributionNative****Holm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014
Yugoslavia (former)PresentNativeShala, 1987


AustraliaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1979; O'Donnell et al., 2002; EPPO, 2014
New ZealandPresentEdgar, 1980

History of Introduction and Spread

Top 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).


Top 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 List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / 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 Affected

Top of page A. sterilis is principally a weed of arable crops, particularly cereals.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

Top of page
Plant nameFamilyContext
Hordeum spp.PoaceaeOther
Triticum spp.PoaceaeMain

Growth Stages

Top of page Post-harvest, Seedling stage, Vegetative growing stage

Biology and Ecology

Top 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).

Reproductive Biology

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.

Environmental Requirements

Suitable climates include temperate climates with winter or summer rainfall, and sub-tropical climate with mainly summer rainfall (Wells et al., 1986).

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
0 0 0 0


Top of page
ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall00mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

Top of page Winter

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • medium

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top 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 Dispersal

Top 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).

Accidental Introduction

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 Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Containers and packaging - woodGrain sack contaminant Yes
Plants or parts of plantsWheat grain contaminant Yes

Plant Trade

Top of page
Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Flowers/Inflorescences/Cones/Calyx seeds
Fruits (inc. pods) seeds
Growing medium accompanying plants seeds
Leaves 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 Summary

Top of page
Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products None
Biodiversity (generally) None
Crop production Negative
Environment (generally) None
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production None
Human health None
Livestock production None
Native fauna None
Native flora None
Rare/protected species None
Tourism None
Trade/international relations None
Transport/travel None


Top 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 Factors

Top 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
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


Top 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 List

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Genetic importance

  • Gene source for disease resistance
  • Gene source for high yields


  • Poisonous to mammals

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top 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 Control

Top of page 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).

Mechanical Control

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).

Chemical Control

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).

Effective compounds

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.

Integrated Control

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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