RYE. This cereal, known botanically as Secale cereale, is supposed to be the cultivated form of S. montanum, a wild perennial species occurring in the more elevated districts of parts of the Mediterranean region, and W. to Central Asia. Its cultivation does not appear to have been practised at a
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Rye (Secale cereale), about ¼ nat. size. 1, single spikelet; 2, single flower with awned plume and palea; 3, pistil; 4, grain. 1, 2, 4, about two-thirds nat. size.
very early date, relatively speaking. Alphonse de Candolle, who has collected the evidence on this point, draws attention to the fact that no traces of this cereal have hitherto been found in Egyptian monuments, or in the earlier Swiss dwellings, though seeds have been found in association with weapons of the Bronze period at Olmütz. The absence of any special name for it in the Semitic, Chinese and Sanskrit languages is also adduced as an indication of its comparatively recent culture. On the other hand, the general occurrence of the name in the more modern languages of N. Europe, under various modifications, points to the cultivation of the plant then, as now, in those regions. The origin of the Latin name secale, which exists in a modified form among the Basques and Bretons, is not explained. Rye is a tall-growing annual grass, with fibrous roots, flat, narrow, ribbon-like bluish-green leaves, and erect or decurved cylindrical slender spikes like those of barley. The spike lets contain two or three flowers, of which the uppermost is usually imperfect. The outer glumes are acute and glabrous, the flowering glumes lance-shaped, with a comb-like keel at the back, and the outer or lower one prolonged at the apex into a very long bristly awn. Within these are three stamens surrounding a compressed ovary, with two feathery stigmas. When ripe, the grain is of an elongated oval form, with a few hairs at the summit. When the ovaries of the plant become affected with a peculiar fungus (Claviceps purpurea) they become blackened and distorted, constituting ergot (q.v.).
In the S. of Great Britain rye is chiefly or solely cultivated as a forage-plant for cattle and horses, being usually sown in autumn for spring use, after the crop of roots, turnips, &c., is exhausted, and before the clover and lucerne are ready. For forage purposes it is best to cut early, before the leaves and haulms have been exhausted of their supplies to benefit the grain. In the N. of Europe, and more especially in Scandinavia, Russia and parts of N. Germany, rye is the principal cereal; and in nutritive value, as measured by the amount of gluten it contains, it stands next to wheat, a fact which furnishes the explanation of its culture in N. latitudes ill-suited for the growth of wheat. Rye bread or black bread is in general use in N. Europe. The straw, which is prized on account of its length, is used for making hats and in the manufacture of paper. The bran is used for cattle-food and poultices, and the grain in the distillery.