The Difference Between Barley and Wheat Plants


Barley and wheat plants are grown in the Midwestern United States and Canada. They are adapted to the low rainfall and soils in these areas and are grown for the seeds in heads at the top of the mature plants. They are both grasses, but there are many differences between the two. One difference is their usage as food.

Wheat is for Making Breads

  • Wheat is grown for foods such as bread, crackers, noodles, pancakes and rolls. Each wheat variety has a different use in foods. Hard red wheat is mainly used for making bread flour. Durum wheat is used in macaroni and spaghetti. White wheat is used for pastry. Soft red wheat is used for biscuits, crackers and cake.

Barley is for Beer and Livestock Feed

  • Feed barley is for livestock. Malting barley is used to make beer. After malting barley is harvested, it is converted into malt. The malt is used in the beer-making process. Some of the malt is used in breakfast cereals and other cereal products. Plant breeders are beginning to develop barley varieties for human consumption.

Botanical Differences Between Wheat and Barley in the Stem

  • It is difficult to tell the difference between grasses before they produce seed. You must compare the structures, called auricles, on the leaf collar to tell the difference between grasses. The auricles are small structures that hang out from the collar and wrap around the stem. Barley has long clasping auricles that are devoid of hairs. The auricles on wheat plants are shorter and have small hair. Use a magnifying glass to view them.

Differences Between Wheat and Barley Seeds

  • Wheat and barley both have seeds that resemble small, hard berries. They also both have small coverings that surround the seed. These coverings are called the lemma and the palea. When you remove the wheat seed from the head of the plant, it is easy to remove these coverings from the seed. Barley is quite different, with the lemma and the palea fused to the seed. With pearled barley, these coverings are sanded off.

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  • "Principles of Field Crop Production -- Fourth Edition;" John Martin; 2006
  • Photo Credit NA/ Images
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