Zizania palustris (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Zizania palustris L.

Family: Gramineae

Vernacular names

  • American wild rice, Indian rice, manomin (En)
  • Folle avoine (Fr).


Widely distributed in south-eastern Canada and north-eastern United States; the grains were collected as a wild cereal along the shores of the Great Lakes long before recorded history. Trials to domesticate Z. palustris have been in progress since the 1950s and hence its cultivation is increasing, including outside its area of natural distribution.


The grains are cooked and eaten as rice. They have a high protein and carbohydrate content, are low in fat, have a good taste, and are considered to be a gourmet food. The wild populations constitute an excellent fodder, especially for birds (e.g. water fowl).


  • Annual aquatic grass, 60-70(-160) cm tall, with shallow root system consisting of straight, spongy roots bearing few root hairs.
  • Stem strongly tillering (up to 50 tillers per plant).
  • Leaf blade linear, 6-32 mm wide; mature plants usually bear 5-6 leaves above the water.
  • Inflorescence a slender much-branched panicle; top portion of the panicle bearing erect female spikelets, the lower branches bearing pendulous male spikelets; the lemma of the female spikelet bears a long awn; cross pollination is common.
  • Caryopsis cylindrical, 8-16 mm × 1.5-4.5 mm; the dark brown to purple-black grain is tightly enclosed by the palea and lemma.

The crop can be grown similarly to water-grown rice, but is adapted to deeper and cooler water. The grains have a dormancy period of at least 3 months and should be stored in water of 3 °C to keep their viability. Yield ranges from 480-1250 kg/ha. Once harvested the grains are left in the open air to ferment for 4-7 days. The fermented grain is put in an oven for about 2 hours at a temperature of over 125 °C. Moisture is reduced to less than 10%, the kernel shrinks and becomes loose in the hull and the starch gelatinizes.

Breeding programmes in Canada and the United States are developing disease-resistant cultivars with non-shattering grains adapted to various local requirements. Germplasm is abundantly available and variation is large.

The closely related American Z. aquatica L. hybridizes freely with Z. palustris and the two species are sometimes considered conspecific. Z. latifolia (Griseb.) Turcz. ex Stapf, which is mainly cultivated as a vegetable in South-East Asia, is a near relative of Z. palustris. It might be possible to develop Zizania cultivars that are interesting for South-East Asia.

Selected sources

9, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 27, 31, 34.


  • H.N. van der Hoek & P.C.M. Jansen