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Strictly speaking, cereals are plants belonging to the Gramineae family and used in nutrition for their big grains. Such grains are in fact dry fruits, called caryopses. They are rich in starch (75-90% of the dry matter). When dry, their low water content (10-15%) makes them easy to transport and store. Both caracteristics combined explain that cereals have been at the food basis of many civilisations.

Cereals grown on a commercial basis

(In the case of Hordeum and Triticum, subspecies have been enumerated because they are sometimes considered as distinct species, and are considered as different crops).

Rare or endemic cereals


Etymologically, millet is Panicum miliaceum in Latin. This term has taken very early a generic meaning, grouping now a great number of cereal species with (very) small round grains. In English, pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is a member of millets, whereas in French, it is usually excluded (as being mil, not millet). Similarly, sorghum is called gros mil in African French. Portuguese went further, as milho designates above all maize, but also sorghum, pearl millet and other millets. The reason behind this meaning extension is linked with a similar use of such plants, which are mostly eaten in porridge (liquid or dry).


Plants belonging to other botanical families have seeds with similar characteristics . They are called “pseudo-cereals”. The main cultivated ones belong to genera Amaranthus, Chenopodium and Fagopyrum.

Small grain cereals

Under this heading (in French: céréales à paille), cereals from sub-family Pooideae are intended; they are characterized by a hollow culm, valued as straw in agriculture, and by relatively small grains. In pratice, il groups wheat, barley, rye, triticale and oats.

determination key of flowering cereals

mnemotechnical determination key of cereals at the rosette stage


In some countries, an even more generic term includes pulses, which can be stored like céréales but contain above all proteins. It is the case of Spanish granos básicos, but it was also the use of bleds in French by Olivier de Serres (1600). In other countries, various plants are included into "grains", such as sesame.

Wild cereals

Many species have remained fully wild, and are still harvested in the wild in some areas. Other ones are harvested as wild cereals, but have been domesticated as fodder plants. Still other ones are attested in history or prehistory, and their use has now disappeared.


Wild pseudo-cereals

This list includes some perennial plants the grains of which are considered as cereals by PROSEA and PROTA.

External links

Wheat classification and nomenclature

Managed by the Wheat Genetic and Genomic Resources Center, and hosted at Kansas State University, this site details all the classification systems for Triticum and Aegilops genera, and links them together. For the sake of consistency, any user of scientific names in that group should check whether names he uses belong to the same system or not. The site also gives access to resources about the genera of Triticeae.

Wheat taxonomy : http://www.k-state.edu/wgrc/Taxonomy/taxintro.html

Gramineae species description

This site created by Kew gives detailed descriptions of all the species of Gramineae. A synonymic index can be downloaded.

GrassBase : http://www.kew.org/data/grasses-db/index.htm