The oats (Avena) are a genus of 10-15 species of true grasses (family Poaceae). They are native to Europe, Asia and northwest Africa. One species is widely cultivated elsewhere, and several have become naturalized in many parts of the world. All oats have edible seeds, though they are small and hard to harvest in most species.
For diseases of oats, see List of oats diseases.
"Sowing wild oats" is a phrase used since at least the 16th century; it appears in a 1542 tract by Thomas Beccon, a Protestant clergyman from Norfolk. Apparently, a similar expression was used in Roman Republican times already, e.g. by Plautus. The origin of the expression is the fact that wild oats, notably A. fatua, are a major weed in oat farming. Among European cereal grains, oats are hardest to tell apart from their weed relatives, which look almost alike but yield little grain. The life cycle of A. fatua is nearly synchronous with that of Common Oat (see also Vavilovian mimicry) and in former times it could only be kept at bay by checking one's oat plants one by one and hand-weeding the wild ones when they were in flower but the grains had not ripened yet, lest the wild oats seeded themselves out. Consequently, "sowing wild oats" became a way to describe pointless activities. Given the reputation of oat grain to have invigorating properties and the obvious connection between plant seeds and human "seed", it is not surprising that the meaning of the phrase shifted towards more or less explicitly referring to the sexual liaisons of an unmarried young male, possibly resulting in children born out of wedlock.
Quantitative Trait Locus Mapping of Genes under Selection across Multiple Years and Sites in Avena Barbata: Epistasis, Pleiotropy, and Genotype-by-Environment Interactions
May 01, 2010; ABSTRACT The genetic architecture of variation in evolutionary fitness determines the trajectory of adaptive change. We...