New Wild rice puts one-up for Bhutan’s rice species

Wild Rice. Photo Courtesy: NBC
Wild Rice.
Photo Courtesy: NBC

With the entry of a new wild rice species discovered in Lhamoizingkha under Dagana dzongkhag, Bhutan is richer by one more species of rice.

This wild relative in the rice family scientifically called Oryza Officianalis Wall.ExWatt locally known as ‘Jungali dhan’ (wild rice) with the local people is a perennial herb found in south and south-east Asian countries. It was recently recorded as a new wild rice species for Bhutan.

The far flung areas of Lhamoizingkha have reported such occurrence of wild rice species more than 12 years ago, and the rice experts have become all the more inquisitive about its existence in order to understand the country’s agro–biodiversity.

A two-member team from the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) in Thimphu accompanied by four native farmers who are familiar with the sites of the wild rice explored the suspected areas in search of the rice species.

“The occurrence of wild rice species in Bhutan has always generated interest in terms of understanding the country’s agro- biodiversity,” said Asta Maya Tamang of NBC who went to the site with few other officials.

The trek to the site entails a tiring walk along the Khurul khola (river), and the team had to cross a few rivers before the path lead into the deep jungle. “One also had to keep an eye out for elephants who roamed this part of the forest,” she said.

According to the official the team first sighted a few clumps of wild rice in the forest, an inch closer to the lake from which the team took its specimen to the NBC.

The team also explored for further discoveries and scrutinized the area around the lake which revealed around five patches/micro sites with clumps ranging from two to 50 clumps per micro site. And on closer inspection by the team, the rice plants were found to be at the milk stage of grain formation.

After carrying out the necessary tasks to document the plant, the officials also examined the specimen after reaching the center closely to confirm the new species of rice.

Wild relatives are the progenitors or ancestors of domesticated crops and a potential source of genes for crop improvement.

Such species of rice is also found in Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua, Papua New, Guinea, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Oryza officianalis Wall.ExWatt usually grows in the deciduous forest with open vegetation especially  by itself or rarely on the edge of the cultivated rice fields or fruit plantation gardens.

It acclimatizes in seasonally wet areas, ditches, swampy or marsh areas near small water holes and along lakesides, streams and rivers. Such species of rice prefers to grow in alluvial silt soils or sandy soils on lime stone and survive in full sun or partial shade.

Currently Bhutan has 24 varieties of rice of which 14 varieties are introduced and 12 are local varieties. Rice is a staple food crop and over 69% of the population engages in rice farming.

Rice is cultivated in a wide range of elevations, from subtropical lowlands (1500 m) in the south up to elevations as high as 2,600 meters above sea level in the north.

The present productivity of rice, less than 3 tonne/hectare, cultivated on 46,585 acres out of the 69,414 acres of irrigated land has not been able to attain food sufficiency level in the country (MoA, 2004)

The Oryza officianalis Wall.ExWatt is perennially erect and usually rhizomatous grass of variable height; panicles open, basal panicle branches whorled with spikelet inserted half way or more from base. Its spikelet measures 4.3 to 8.8 mm long and 2.2 to 3.3 mm wide with anthers around 1.5 to 4.5 mm long.

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