Developmental patterns strongly influence spike fertility and grain number, which are primarily determined during the stem elongation period (i.e. time between terminal spikelet phase and anthesis). It has been proposed that the length of the stem elongation phase may, to an extent, affect grain number; thus it would be beneficial to identify genetic variation for the duration of this phase in elite germplasm. Variation in these developmental patterns was studied using 27 elite wheat lines in four experiments across three growing seasons. The results showed that the length of the stem elongation phase was (i) only slightly related to the period from seedling emergence to terminal spikelet, and (ii) more relevant than it for determining time to anthesis. Thus, phenological phases were largely independent and any particular time to anthesis may be reached with different combinations of component phases. Yield components were largely explained by fruiting efficiency of the elite lines used: the relationships were strongly positive and strongly negative with grain number and with grain weight, respectively. Although fruiting efficiency showed a positive trend with the duration of stem elongation that was not significant, a boundary function (which was highly significant) suggests that the length of this phase may impose an upper threshold for fruiting efficiency and grain number, and that maximum values of fruiting efficiency may require a relatively long stem elongation phase.