Not "Wild" About Wild Rice?

Not

September 1, 2020 by

Lakeshore owners in recent years are finding new ‘weeds’ growing near their docks. Wild rice, a native grass that grows in shallow lake and river areas has re-emerged in locations where some say it hasn’t been seen in years. For some people that is cause for celebration, for others, a headache.

Here’s a few things you may not know about wild rice, or manoomin, as it is known in the Ojibwe language. Wild rice is the state grain of Minnesota. Wild rice, the wild grass growing perhaps around your dock, along the shoreline, and down the river, is hand harvested each fall in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the only two states where it is abundant enough to sustain harvest. Wild rice also supports a multi-million dollar cultivated wild rice industry that emerged in Minnesota a short 70 years ago. Wild rice, in Minnesota, is protected based on its cultural and ecological importance.

 Wild rice provides many benefits in shallow lakes or shallow areas of deeper lakes. Wild rice provides nursery areas for fish, habitat for dragonflies and other aquatic insects, and hiding areas for ducklings and other wetland birds. Growing near shore, wild rice like other emergent plants (those plants that grow in the water, but above the water line), protects shorelines from erosion and help hold sediment in place, keeping the water clean. In the fall, wild rice feeds thousands of migrating waterfowl as they wing south for winter – many species key in on ripe rice for much needed fuel for their southward migration.

So why is wild rice emerging now? When we see something new happening to our lakes, I like to think about what has changed in or on the lake. Often times, a drop in water levels can bring wild rice back. On Harriet Lake, in Hubbard County, a beaver dam was removed downstream of the outlet and water levels lowered. Wild rice returned. Growing annually from seed, the sediment in a lake may hold thousands of seeds just sitting dormant, waiting for conditions to be right for germination. How long can those seeds sit there? There is a lake over in Wisconsin, Totagatic Lake, in Bayfield County, known for its wild rice. Over the years, due to some blocked outflow, water levels rose and wild rice disappeared. For decades the rice declined until very little grew. One year the outlet was cleaned out, bringing the lake back down to historical levels and the wild rice the next year covered the entire lake.

 We know that wild rice can sit in the sediment for years before germinating. What else has changed recently in your lake? Has water quality improved? Wild rice is sensitive to pollutants, so improvements in water quality may lead to wild rice reemerging. Are there new types of boats? Specifically thinking about Wake boats that stir up sediment when used in shallow areas, or even the use of larger motors in the shallows. Both would re-suspend bottom sediment, potentially moving wild rice seed closer to the surface, resulting in germination the following spring. 

Wild rice removal is regulated in Minnesota and requires a permit. Your local Aquatic Plant Management (APM) Specialist in the Fisheries Section can answer your questions about control of this, and other emergent vegetation. In Otter Tail County the contact is Jerry Wendlandt at jerry.wendlandt@state.mn.us.

This article is for information purposes only. Interested in more information about wild rice? Contact Annette at annette.drewes@state.mn.us.

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