Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Schimp. iter Abyss. sectio III No 1877 (1844).
2n = 28
Ethiopian oat, Abyssinian oat (En). Avoine d’Abyssinie (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Avena abyssinica probably originated from Avena barbata Pott ex Link. It is native to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen, and is cultivated for its grain in northern Ethiopia. It has been tried as a crop in Tanzania and Algeria.
In Ethiopia the grain of Avena abyssinica is used mixed with barley to make pancake-like bread (‘injera’), local beer (‘tella’) and other products. The grain is also eaten roasted as a snack (‘kollo’). Malt containing an admixture of Avena abyssinica has been credited with giving better beer than malt from pure barley or wheat.
Erect annual grass up to 1.5 m tall. Leaves alternate, simple; leaf sheath long and loose; ligule acute, membranous; blade linear, flat, usually glaucous. Inflorescence a terminal panicle 20–35 cm long, loose and open, the branches slightly rough. Spikelet slender-stalked, pendulous, 2–2.5 cm long, 2–3-flowered, with the uppermost floret reduced or vestigial, non-shattering; glumes almost equal, narrowly elliptical, sharply acuminate, several-veined; lemma 1.5–2 cm long, smooth and glabrous or with a few bristly hairs near the awn insertion or margin, narrowly bifid, each lobe with 1 vein extended into an apical bristle 1–3 mm long, usually also minutely toothed at the base of the bristle, with slender, abruptly bent awn 2.5–3 cm long, arising from the back of the lemma; palea almost as long as lemma, bifid, 2-keeled, prickly hairy on the back; stamens 3; ovary superior, villous, with 2 stigmas. Fruit a caryopsis (grain).
Avena comprises about 30 species, which are diploid (2n = 14), tetraploid (2n = 28) or hexaploid (2n = 42). The tetraploid Avena abyssinica belongs to section Ethiopica. It can be distinguished from the common oat (Avena sativa L.) by the presence of two bristles at its lemma tip. It crosses easily with the weed Avena vaviloviana (Malzev) Mordv., resulting in weedy hybrid swarms which shatter easily.
Avena abyssinica is cultivated, but is also a weed of arable land, particularly in barley and wheat fields. In Ethiopia it is found at 1700–3000 m altitude. Experiments indicate that Avena abyssinica is a long-day plant and that vernalization results in earlier flowering.
Avena abyssinica is recorded to be grown sometimes in Eritrea and Ethiopia, but it is unclear to what extent this is still the case. As a weed in barley and wheat it is often tolerated and harvested with the main crop. Avena abyssinica is affected by crown rust or leaf rust (Puccinia coronata f.sp. avenae). It is also susceptible to infestation with ergot (Claviceps spp.); consumption of infected grains has led to outbreaks of ergotism in Ethiopia.
Genetic resources and breeding
The largest germplasm collections of Avena abyssinica are kept at in the United States (USDA-ARS National Small Grains Germplasm Research Facility, Aberdeen, Idaho, 241 accessions), the United Kingdom (John Innes Centre, Department of Applied Genetics, Norwich, 65 accessions) and the Russian Federation (N.I. Vavilov All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry, St. Petersburg, 53 accessions). No germplasm collections are known to exist in tropical Africa.
Avena abyssinica is a semi-domesticated plant in Ethiopia, where it is used as a component in mixtures for the preparation of food and local beer. It has, however, not become important and its present status is uncertain.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Avena abyssinica Hochst. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.