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The seed germinates in the spring and first sends up soft ribbonlike leaves which reach and float out on the surface. Soon after, the upright stems, well rooted in the mud, come up and grow above the surface to a height of 2 to 7 feet, depending on the variety and conditions. Flowering starts in August and seeds begin to ripen in late August and early September. Only a few seeds are produced on each plant and these fall as soon as they ripen. It is difficult to harvest the complete crop of seed at any one time.
The kernel is ½ inch to 1 inch long and is enclosed in a firm hull with a long rough bristle at the tip. The kernel is soft and rubbery, and greenish brown in color when ripe, but turns brittle and dark brown or black on drying. For human food the grain is first roasted, then the hulls are threshed off and cleaned out by winnowing. It is cooked in various ways, but its most popular use is as a stuffing for roast wild duck.
Different varieties of wild rice occur in nature, but all belong to one species known botanically as Zizania aquatica. The varieties vary in size, number of flowers, texture of the hull, and size of grain. Originally they grew in separate parts of Canada. Numerous other grasses, sedges and rushes growing along shores may easily be mistaken for wild rice. If you are not sure if a plant is wild rice send a specimen of the plant, or at least of part of the stem with head and leaves attached, flattened and dried between sheets of newspaper, to the Plant Research Institute, Research Branch, Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, Ontario, where your specimen will be identified.
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