Wild Rice

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

wild rice is a grass of the genus Zizania which grows in N. America. Southern wild rice Z. aquatica grows along the western littoral from Florida to New England; Northern wild rice Z. palustris is at home in the Great Lakes region and S. central Canada; and Texan wild rice Z. Texana is a perennial (the others are annuals) which is now endangered even in its home state. In Asia, Manchurian wild rice Z. latifolia is also perennial. Its import into the USA is forbidden, for fear the smut fungus Ustilago esculenta should infect the native population. This fungus swells the stems, which are then eaten in SE Asia as if they were asparagus. It is known in Chinese as gaosun. The plant’s broader leaves are also used for wrapping dumplings. Wild rice grows in water, mainly in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the US state of Minnesota. It is a tall plant (up to more than 3 m or over 9'). Hawkes (1968) describes the large terminal panicles as ‘somewhat like airy candelabra, hung with the seeds’, and observes that the seeds are relished by waterfowl as much as by man.