Zizania aquatica

Wild Rice

Wild Rice, USGS Photo

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Zizania, from the Greek, zizanion (zizanion), a weed that grows in wheat, probably darnel, Lolium temulentum, Bearded Darnel, a common grass weed in English cornfields (Cf. Sumer. zizân 'wheat'.)
    • In the "Parable of the Sower" from the New Testament (Matthew 13:18-23), the darnel (tares) is a harmful plant, which is difficult to distinguish from wheat prior to maturity. The darnel is called zizania in the original Greek text. A similar use of darnel is found in Matthew 13:24.
  • aquatica, from the Latin, aquaticus, "living, growing, or found in or by the water; aquatic"
  • Common name from the similarity of the grain to common, domestic rice.
  • Other common names include Annual Wild Rice, Canadian Rice, Indian Wild Rice, Squaw Rice, Blackbird Oats, Marsh Oats, Water Oats, folle avoine (Qué), Intiaaniriisi (Fin)
  • Mah-NO-min in Anishinaabemowin, from a contraction of manitou, "spirit", and the suffix -min (rhymes with "bit"), "seed", a reflection of this grain's importance, and sacred character, in traditional Ojibwe culture. Manoomin also gives its name to the moon (month) of the wild rice harvest, Manoominike Giizis.


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Liliopsida, the Monocotyledons
      • Subclass Commelinidae
        • Order Cyperales, the grasses
          • Family Poaceae, the grasses
            • Genus Zizania, the wild rice
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 41319
  • Also known as Zizania palustris


  • Annual, aquatic grass, and the preeminent wild grain of the North Country
  • Leaves flat, strap-like, 3'-4' long, to ¼"-2" wide, smooth, margins sharply toothed, leaf-markings purple, with thick midrib often nearer one margin than the other. Mature plants have 5-6 leaves for each stem or tiller above the water.
  • Stems to 10' tall, thick and spongy; erect and hollow with paper-thin, transverse walls at the internodes.
  • Roots slender, fibrous, penetrating shallowly; some adventitious roots present. Mature roots are straight and spongy. Root system shallow, with spread of only 8"-12".
  • Flower structure erect, very large (to 2' long and 1' across), at stem tip, with spreading branches and branchlets, lower branchlets drooping (male flowers), upper branchlets pointing stiffly upward (female flowers); spikelets and flowers numerous. Both male and female flowers range from white to purple; spikelets one-flowered and unisexual, with long stiff twisted barbed awns. Cross-fertilized and wind-pollinated.
    • Pistillate (female) flowers enclosed by two glumes, the outer one larger, awned, and toward the axis; clustered on upper erect portion of panicle, above, and opening before, the male flowers.
    • Staminate (male) flowers on spreading branches consisting of two glumes enveloping six bright yellow stamens.
    • Transitional florets occasionally occur on the stem between the male and female flowers, bearing both anthers and stigmas and thus capable of self-pollinization.
  • Fruit an ovoid grain, yellow to reddish
  • Seed a caryopsis similar to the grain of cereals. Kernels closely adhering to thin brown hull, shallow-grooved the entire length of one surface, long, nearly cylindrical, 1.21.9 cm long, about 0.71 mm wide, purplish-black when ripe.
  • Wild rice is well adapted to northern latitudes. It is not very productive in the southern United States since warm temperatures accelerate plant growth, and as a result, plant heights are shorter with an accompanying lower number of florets. The number of florets per panicle also decreases when the daylength is shorter than 14 hours. However, moderate yields have been produced in southern climates when planted in late February or early March. Northern California, Idaho and Oregon have recently been other areas where wild rice has produced good yields.

    B. Soil:

    Wild rice in Minnesota and Wisconsin is usually produced on low, wet land that has never or seldom been farmed. The paddy site should be net enough to avoid expensive or excessive grading that would expose the subsoil. This crop grows well on shallow peat soils, and clay or sandy loams. The site should have an impervious subsoil, such as clay, which prevents seepage during most of the growing season and is a solid footing for heavy field equipment. The majority of wild rice fields have been developed on organic soils with a peat depth ranging from several inches to more than 5 ft. Peat areas in Minnesota, except for acid bogs which are low in fertility, are ideal for growing wild rice since they are generally flat and slightly above the flood plain. Peats with pH 5.5 as well as sphagnum bogs should be avoided. Ideally, the soil should contain 20% mineral matter and have a carbon to nitrogen ratio less than 16. Viability of dormant seed can be checked by removing the pericarp above the embryo and then placing the seed in a pan of water, or by performing the tetrazolium test.

    FIELD CHARACTERISTICS: A robust, annual grass generally 2-3 m. in height. The inflorescence is a large panicle 1-6 dm. high. Spikelets have 1 flower and are unisexual. The pistillate spikelets are located in the upper portion of the inflorescence, while the staminate spikelets are located in the lower portion. The pistillate spikelets have a lemma with a long, bristle-like awn. Staminate spikelets are red or yellow. Leaves are 1-5 cm. wide and go through a floating stage prior to emergence. In flower from June to September.

    ECOLOGICAL NOTES: Wild rice is a nonpersistent emergent found in, deep and shallow marshes, lakes, ponds, and streams. Optimum water depth is 1.5 to 3.0 feet, although it can be found in deeper waters. It grows best in clear, shallow water with a slight current over a silty to mucky bottom. Wild rice is an excellent waterfowl food and is often sown to grow stands for the benefit of wildlife. It has been widely planted, both within and outside its natural range, and is in Minnesota. Wild-rice is a large emersed grass that grows in the water of marshes, lakes, and rivers. It's yellow to reddish grains are edible.

    Wild-rice grows to ten feet tall. It's stems are thick and spongy. It's leaves are flat and strap-like, and up to two inches wide. The leaf is typically three to four feet long. The leaf surfaces are smooth but have rough margins. Wild-rice's large inflorescence grows at the top of the stem. It is up to two feet long and a foot across. It is a wide-open panicle with many spreading branches and branchlets. The lower branches have many drooping branchlets. The upper branches of the inflorescence point stiffly upwards.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Native to North America and particularly the Great Lakes region.
  • Native to North America from the northern end of Lake Winnipeg southward to Gulf of Mexico, and eastward to the Atlantic Coast, being more generally found in Minnesota and in southern Manitoba and Ontario, Canada.
  • A related, perennial species (Zizania latifolia) is known from Eastern Asia.


  • Edges of ponds and moist soils; shallow waters
  • Somewhat acidic waters, with a pH of 5.9 to near 7.0; will not grow in strongly alkaline waters.
  • Slow-moving water without readily perceptible current required to maintain constant change of water; stagnant water is unsuited to the plant.
  • depth of water from 15 cm to 1.6 m; with constant or slightly declining water levels through the growing season, whereas if levels rise, the boyant leaves and stems may pull roots out of loose muck;
  • best wild rice stands are found in water with <10 ppm sulfate. Fresh water plant, not growing successfully in water with a salty taste. In eastern and southeastern United States thriving in brackish water in low marshes bordering tidal rivers, and in no more than 0.6 m of water, and where the annual change of water level is not more than 0.60.9 m of water. Grows wild in shallow freshwater lakes and on margins of lakes and streams, often covering vast areas, especially in northern
  • United States and southern Canada. with best stands in water with alkalinity of 40200 ppm; pH , with best growth at pH 6.88.8; sulfate-iron concentration below 10 ppm; with low percent of available potash and phosphate and high organic content of soil.
  • proper water depth is important. If too deep, the
  • weak sun rays of spring are diverted from the seed, if too shallow, the plant develops a weak stem. Most important, is consistent water depth. When the seed germinates in the Spring, a tiny hair root anchors the seed in place and the stalk starts to grow to the water surface, picking up air to float itself. When the plant reaches the surface, it joins and forms the float leaf, or banner leaf stage. The long leaves form, floating on the surface of the water at 90 degree angles to the stalk. This is a critical stage for the wild rice plant. Should the water level rise, the stalk is pulled up since it is very weakly rooted. Should the water level drop, the weak stalk can collapse. Also, during this stage, high winds can create large waves that will tear up a wild rice stand.

    Should conditions be just right, the leaves produce plant food, the stalk and root system strengthen and create a good strong base to support more vegetative growth of the plant. With this strong base, the strong plant goes aerial, that is, it stands up. the floating leaves rise above the water, spread out to the sun and maturity takes its course.


  • Trees: Tammarack (Larix laricina), Black Spruce (Picea mariana)
  • Shrubs: Bog Birch (Betula pumila), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), Sweet Gale (Myrica gale)
  • Herbs: Cattails (Typha spp)
  • Ground Covers: Sphagnum Mosses (Sphagnum spp.)
  • Mammals: Moose (Alces alces)
  • Birds: food for wild birds and waterfowl, especially Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), Bobolink,
  • Blackbirds, and Carolina Rail. Redwing blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) frequently strip entire stands in the 'milk' stage.
  • Insects: Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator)


  • Consumed by humans since prehistoric times and a staple in the diet of Native Americans, especially the Ojibwe, Menomini, and Cree of the North Central region, who introduced it to European fur traders. Early English explorers called it Wild Rice or Indian Rice, while the French thought it resembled oats and called it folle avoine.
  • Native peoples of the Great Lakes boiled rice and ate it with beans, corn, or squash. Meat, a bit of grease, or maple sugar was often added for seasoning. Said to keep for up to two years if buried in a canoe on a well-drained, sunny slope. More often stored in birchbark containers.
  • Cultivation as a field crop began in 1950 but substantial acreage was not cultivated until the late 1960's.
  • Minnesota's State Grain and an important commercial crop in the state.


  • Compared with other cereals, it is high in protein and low in fat
  • Wild stands in lakes and rivers are harvested from boats, typically canoes, after about 4½ months growth. Stalks are bent over the boat with a wooden stick as the grains are gently beaten from the stem with a second stick. Fewer than half of the available grains are recovered in this way, leaving plenty to reseed the rice beds. Harvest often extends over several weeks, owing to the uneven maturation of the plants.
  • Traditional white rice farmers realize a yield of 4,000 to 6,000 pounds per acre. Wiith virtually the same investment in land, equipment, and time, the wild rice producer can often expect but 100-200 pounds per acre.


  • Reproduces by seed. the seed panicle produces seeds that mature at different times, some early to miss the frost, some late late to
  • miss the migrating birds.
  • Wild rice stands in lakes and rivers reseed themselves and can reproduce indefinitely if water levels do not change significantly during the year over a number of years.
  • Seed dormancy will prevent germination until after three months of cold (33° to 35°F) storage in water. The percent germination is determined by placing seeds in a pan of water at room temperature (68°F). The water should be changed every two days, and after 21 days, high quality seed should have a 70% or higher germination rate. Seed germinates at 42°F, but the optimum temperature is between 64° to 70°F.
  • Flowers
  • Cross pollination usually occurs since female flowers emerge first and become receptive and are pollinated before male flowers shed pollen on the same panicle. Two weeks after fertilization the wild rice seeds are visible, and after four weeks, it is ready for harvest. This seed is The caryopsis has an impermeable pericarp, large endosperm, and small embryo. The grains with the palea and lemma (hulls) removed, range from 0.3 to 0.6 in. in length, and from 0.06 to 0.18 in. in diameter. Immature seeds are green, but turn a purple-black color as they reach maturity. Seeds on any tiller will mature at different times, and on secondary tillers they mature later than on main tillers. There is little shattering resistance in natural stands.


  • By seed; good ripe seed is brown in color and will sink when sown.
  • Processed rice grains are dried and will not germinate. Seed viability is lost if allowed to dry below 28% moisture content.
  • Seeds will not germinate for at least three months after reaching maturity, even if environmental conditions are satisfactory for growth. An after-ripening period is required in water at freezing or near-freezing temperatures (35°F) before the embryo breaks dormancy and develops into a new seedling. This seed dormancy is caused by the impermeable pericarp that is covered by a layer of wax, and by an imbalance of endogenous chemical growth promotors and inhibitors. In the spring, seeds will start to germinate when the water temperature reaches about 45°F. Freshly harvested seeds can be made to germinate by carefully scraping off the pericarp directly above the embryo. These seeds cannot be planted directly, but must first be germinated in water, and then the seedlings transplanted later.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun
    • Soil
    • Water
    • Spacing
    • Fertilization
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers, especially those specializing in wetland restoration and waterfowl habitat.
  • The following fungi have been reported as causing diseases to wild rice: Bipolaris oryzae, Cercospora zizaniae, Claviceps purpurea, C. zizaniae. Diplodia oryzae, Doassansia zizaniae, Entyloma lineatum, E. pamelii, E. penisulae, Mycospherella zizaniae, Ophiolobus orysinus, Sclerotium zizaniae, Sphaerella zizaniae. Puccinia zizaniae, Uromyces coronatus, Ustilago esculenta. Wild rice is also attacked by the following nematodes: Dolichodorus sp., Hirschmanniella gracilis, Radopholus gracilis, Xiphinema americanum.



Valley Internet Company
Return to Home Page
Send Feedback to Webmaster

Last updated on 26 February, 2004