Wild rice, a true grass (Zizania aquatica, family Gramineae or Poaceae), grows in marshlands and along waterways from Manitoba to the Atlantic Ocean in southern Canada, and over much of the eastern US. Ojibwa (Anishinaabe) speakers know wild rice as Manomin. They only differentiate between lake (shorter grain) and river (longer grain) rice, while botanists recognize several varieties; some treat these as 3 to 4 species.
An annual with stalks up to 3 m high, wild rice bears long, thin grains in loose, drooping clusters. When ripe, grains drop readily and can be harvested by bending laden stalks into a boat and flailing them. While some Ojibwa people still use canoes to harvest wild rice, the bulk of the harvest is now carried out using wild rice harvesters, which utilize a thresher and rice tray mounted at the front of an airboat (windjammer). Wild rice continues to be an important food for Ojibwa people, who sow and harvest it in the watersheds of the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. The nutty-flavoured grains, an ideal dressing for wild game, are good in casseroles and other dishes.
Historically, wild rice was an important cash crop for aboriginal people in the northern Great Lake States and northwestern Ontario, northern Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan. Today most commercial production of lake and river rice is centered in the Canadian regions. Canadian aboriginal harvesters face declining prices and increasing competition from rice that is produced in artificial ponds in Minnesota and California while continuing to be marketed under the term "wild rice."
See also Plants, Aboriginal Peoples uses.