ANNUAL WILD RICE
family: Grass (Poaceae)
Cheyenne name not found
Annual wild rice is annual plant, up to 3 m tall. It has quite thick stem, sometimes procumbent at base, occasionally branched. Leaves are long and soft, 1 to 5 cm wide. It blossoms from July to September. Inflorescence is an erect panicle, 10 to 60 cm high. Male flowers are in the lower part, female ones in the upper part. Male spikelets, in the branched lower part of panicle, hang down. They are 6 to 11 mm long, yellow to purple. Female spikelets, in the constricted upper part of panicle, are ovate, with marked awn. Grains are 10 to 15 mm long and 2 mm wide. They ripen from August to October. Annual wild rice grows in marshlands, along streams, and in shallow water. It ranges from the Great Lakes area to Missouri River, along the Atlantic coast from New Brunswick to Florida and along the Mexican Gulf coast to Louisiana; isolatedly in northern Arizona, California, western Montana, northern Idaho, British Columbia, and Washington.
Untill early 1700’s, when Cheyennes lived in woody territory of central Minnesota, wild rice gathering, hunting, and fishing represented focus of the Cheyenne economy (Grinnell 1923 I: 248). The gathering began at the turn of August and September (Marshall 1996: 56). Probably, it proceeded so that tops were shaken out into birch-bark boats, then seeds were dried, parched and ground in mortars (Densmore 1928: 313–7). The seeds were stored for the season when people had want of game. They were eaten parched or boiled. Louis Hennepin, a French Franciscan and traveller, wrote about wild rice in the late 1600’s:
This kind of grain grows in swampy land without being sown. It resembles oats but tastes better and has longer stems and stalks. The Indians gather it in season, the women binding many stalks together with basswood bark to prevent its being entirely eaten by the flocks of duck and teal found in the region. The Indians lay in a store of it for part of the year, to eat when hunting season is over (Moore 1996: 15–6).