Plants annuals, biennials, or perennials. Culms 25-300 cm tall; nodes usually glaucous.
Lower leaves usually hairy, others glabrous; blades flat, inrolled when dry.
Inflorescences spikelike, 2.5-12(19) cm, with solitary spikelets; rachis densely hairy on the edges, disarticulating or not.
Spikelets with 3 florets, the lower two bisexual, the third usually sterile or staminate, occasionally bisexual. Glumes equal or subequal, 8-18 mm long, linear-lanceolate to subulate, 1-veined, terminating in a short or long awn. Lemmas 10-19 mm long, strongly keeled, keel conspicuously pectinate-ciliate, gradually tapering into a scabrous awn, awn 10-70 mm long. Anthers 2.5-10 mm.
The number of species recognized varies. Frederiksen and Petersen (1998), the primary source for this account, recognized 3, intermpreing both S. strictum and S. cereale more widely than some other taxonomists. They examined specimens from throughout the range of the genus.
Secale is native from Ialy and Hungary to the Altai Mountains. It is grown far outside this range and is also sown for soil stabilization, resulting in the formation of persistent, feral populations.
Frederiksen, S. and G. Petersen. 1998. A taxonomic revision of Secale (Triticeae, Poaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 18: 399-420/