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The name “wild rice” may refer to any of the lesser- or non-cultivated species of Oryza, but is generally used to refer to North American species in the genus Zizania.
Oryza sativa is generally an annual grass, although some varieties are perennial. Plants typically grow in a tuft (clump) of upright culms (stems) up to 2 m or more tall, with long, flat leaf blades. The flowers grow on broad, open terminal panicles (branched clusters). The oblong spikelets, which each contain a single flower (that develops into a single kernel of grain), are sparse along the stem rather than forming dense clusters. The harvested kernel, known as a rice paddy, is enveloped in a hull or husk that is removed during milling.
Oryza sativa has hundreds of cultivars with different grain color, size, and shape, as well as environmental tolerances and seasonality—the types are generally categorized as valley rice, upland rice, spring rice, and summer rice. It is generally grown in fields that are flooded for part of the growing season—whether from irrigation (the majority of cultivation), rainfed or floodplain systems--which help reduces competition from other plants, among other benefits; some upland varieties can be grown without flooding, but they account for only 4% of rice cultivated worldwide.
Rice is thought to have been domesticated in India and brought to China by 3,000 B.C. It was cultivated in Babylon and the Middle East by 2,000 years ago, and spread to the Europe during medieval times.
The FAO estimates that the total commercial harvest of rice in 2010 was 672.0 million metric tons, harvested from 153.7 million hectares. China and India were the leading producers, followed by Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam; the U.S. is ranked 10th. Within the U.S., Arkansas accounts for the largest share of rice cultivation, followed by California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Ecocrop 2012, Encyclopedia Britannica 1993, FAOSTAT 2012, Flora of China 1994, Gillis 2005, Hedrick 1919, Science 2002, USDA 2012, van Wyk 2005, Wikipedia 2012.)