Zizania – a genus of wild grasses from North America and China – is commonly known as “wild rice”, despite its rather distant relationship to the cultivated Orzya species of rice. Wild rice is also called Canada rice, Indian rice, and water oats.
Three species are native to North America and the fourth to China. The Chinese species was introduced to New Zealand, where it has become an invasive species.
Zizania latifolia was an important grain in ancient China, but is no longer eaten there. It has become rare in the wild as its habitat has been turned into cultivated rice paddies; however, the species is still cultivated for its stems. The North American species (especially Zizania palustris) were historically harvested by Native Americans, some of whom still consider the grain sacred or of ceremonial value.
Today, wild rice grain – primarily Zizania palustris – is eaten more widely for its nutritional value and taste, and is grown commercially in the United States, Australia, and Hungary. In Canada, vast stands are harvested for food.