How Grains Grow
Understanding how grains grow helps you appreciate where your food comes from and how it affects you. It can also help you and your child connect to nature.
Amaranth has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years by the Aztecs. It is a tall, broadleaf plant, with thick stems that grow 2 to 8 feet tall. It produces large seed heads that grow in a variety of shades of maroon, green, or gold. The tiny, round, cream-colored seeds are 1 millimeter in diameter. The yield is approximately 1 to 2 ounces of seed per plant.
Corn originated nearly 6,000 years ago in Mexico. Domesticated plants grow up to 8 feet tall with a leafy stalk, which is thick and segmented like a bamboo stalk. The plants produce ears, which contain the grain kernels. One plant produces two or three ears of corn.
Oats were first grown around 4,000 years ago. Cultivated oats are native to northern Central Asia, and are grown in temperate zones with cooler climates. The plant grows 2 to 5 feet tall when it is mature. The plant has a central stem with side branches that rise in whorls with spikelets that have flowers and edible seed heads. There are from 20 to 150 spikelets on one plant, and each spikelet produces one or two seeds, so one plant can make from 20 to 300 grains.
Quinoa is around 4,000 years old and is native to the Andes Mountain range in South America. Quinoa thrives in extreme conditions, such as high altitudes, thin cold air, hot sun, radiation, drought, frost, and poor soil. Quinoa is not truly a grain, but it is used as one. The plant grows from 4 to 6 feet high and has many angular branches with large clusters at the end of a stalk, which are multicolored in pink, red, brown, and ivory. Each stem holds about an ounce of grain.
Rice originated from 8,200 to 13,500 years ago in China. It is a grass plant with a root base and long, slender leaves. Rice is usually grown in fields with water to control weeds, and it can grow
from 2 to 6 feet tall. One mature rice plant can yield more than 3,000 grains.
Wheat originated more than 10,000 years ago, and the common ancestor of wheat, einkorn, was first cultivated in what is now known as Iraq. It needs a cool, moist growing season followed by warm, dry weather for ripening. Wheat has an average height of about 4 feet, and a stalk of wheat can have up to 200 grains.