Canary seed is a limited-use crop that has a short history as a commercial product. Long used as a food staple in the Mediterranean, it was transplanted to North America where it found a new use. The seed produces a grass similar to flax wheat; crops of this grass are grown in limited areas.
Canary grass is part of the Poaceae family of grasses. It is an annual grass that is grown from seed and thrives in Canada, Minnesota and North Dakota. Seed storage is possible for extended periods as long as the storage is dry, air tight and rodent free. Canary seed is planted in May and grows best in heavy moist soil when planted at a depth of 2 inches. The name of the seed comes from its use.
Canary seed matures into full grown grass within 110 days. The seed is shiny brown and is similar to flax seed in size but is more plump. The hull has a glossy yellow tint that is attractive to birds. The grass grows erect with tapering leaf blades of 3½ to 10-inches long. These leaves are usually coarse on both sides, wide and flat. Seedlings appear spindly but grow into the four-leaf stage according to the Alberta Department of Agriculture. These plants produce a single flower that is green or light purple first, then turning tan.
This seed has three uses throughout the world. The primary use is as a part of bird feed mix for caged and wild birds. A secondary use, more limited, is as a flour used in manufacture of cotton and silk goods. The third use is that of a food supply on the Canary Islands, North Africa and Italy.
According to the Alberta Department of Agriculture, Canada accounts for about 75 percent of the world's canary seed crop. The remainder of canary seed is produced by Argentina, Australia, Hungary and Mexico. Argentina is the only other significant producer (12 percent). Of the Canadian production, more than 90 percent comes from Saskatchewan. Almost all of the crop is exported from Canada.
Canary seed is a native seed and plant of southern Europe and in the Middle East. Commercial growing of canary seed began in the U.S. after World War II around Minnesota and North Dakota. Canary seed was first grown in western Canada during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The height of the country's production came during 1994-95, when the crop was 505,000 acres. According to the Alberta Department of Agriculture, the province grew 22,000 acres during 1994 and 10,000 acres during 1995.