Plants that Changed the World-
Over fifty percent of the world’s population eats rice three meals a day, and yet this member of Poaceae, the grass family, hardly registers with Americans. Rice, Oryza sativa is one of the most hand-labor intensive crops grown in the world. Consider the rice paddies of Vietnam, oxen slogging through wet fields and farmers stooped low to plant in agricultural wetlands. Water for irrigation is moved by ancient hand operated systems, and the only thing new in rice cultivation is the addition of fertilizers in the 1940’s when annual yields increased dramatically. High nitrogen led to taller plants given to drooping, which created a subsequent need for introducing shorter, stockier plants. Now scientists are genetically engineering rice to provide a broader spectrum of vitamins and nutrients, like carotene. Beneficial bio-engineering or Franken-foods? You decide.
The wild rice we know in North America, Zizania aquatica is a shirt-tail cousin to Orzo and not as closely related as one might guess. Native Americans harvested it from their canoes, and it is still found in about 14 of Ohio’s counties, along wetlands and waterways.
A much closer relative is Rice Cutgrass, Leersia oryzoides (meaning rice-like) found in abundance and felt like 1000 paper cuts during our Bioblitz at Audubon Wetland Preserve. I am glad we weren’t expected to harvest it as well; no wonder Ohioans are so fond of corn!
If you are interested in providing rice for the hungry and improving your vocabulary at the same time, check out the highly addictive word game at www.freerice.com .