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Wild rice

Indian Rice, Water Oats

Gramineae Zizania aquatica L.

Source: Magness et al. 1971

Wild or Indian rice is not closely related to cultivated rice - belonging to a different genera and even a different tribe of the grass family. The plants are native to North America, growing in shallow lakes and ponds from Southern Canada south to Florida. While much variation exists in size of plant, size of seed, and other characteristics in plants from different locations, all are included in Z. aquatica.

The plant is an aquatic annual grass with stems hollow except at the nodes. It grows only in water, preferably in lakes or ponds that are not stagnant yet have very little current. Growth is usually in water 3 feet or less in depth, with a mud bottom. Stems may reach 3 to 6 feet above the water surface and are terminated by large branched flower panicles. The basal part of the panicles bears only staminate flowers, while the terminal part bears only pistillate flowers and sets the seed crop.

The seed is tightly enclosed in an outer palea and inner lemma. The lemma terminates in a stiff, twisted awn. Seed is harvested from boats by bending the stems over the boat and beating the heads with a stick. Some harvesting machines are in use in which a reel-type beater is mounted on the front end of a flat boat. The harvested seed is enclosed in the palea and lemma and is quite moist. Seed does not mature uniformly and when mature drops into the water. Therefore, successive harvests are necessary to obtain a maximum yield from a location. Sufficient seed is always lost to maintain a stand under suitable growing conditions.

Following harvest the moist seed must be quickly dried to avoid spoilage. For food use it is. dried by parching, which also loosens the hulls. Parching is done by heating in a rotating drum or in an open kettle with constant stirring to prevent buming. Hulls are separated from the grains by tramping or pounding in a pit and putting through a fanning mill or winnowing. The separated kerrnels are near cylindrical, 12 to 20 mm. long by 2 mm. or less in thickness. They are highly esteemed as food by the Northern Indians and by others familiar with the taste. The seed is also an excellent wild life feed. While not a cultivated crop, favorable sites are often seeded in hunting preserves for wild life feed and also for grain harvest. Around a million pounds of wild rice for food is harvested annually in North Central States and in Canada - mostly by Indians. Wild rice is unusually high in protein content and low in fat compared with other cereals. It normally sells at a price 2 to 3 times that of cultivated rice.

Last update June 26, 1996 bha