, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 425-441

First online:

The origin, evolution, cultivation, dissemination, and diversification of Asian and African rices

  • Te-Tzu ChangAffiliated withThe International Rice Research Institute

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Available evidences drawn from biosystematics, evolutionary biology, biogeography, archaeology, history, anthropology, paleo-geology and paleo-meteorology are pooled to reconstruct the series of events that led to the cosmopolitan cultivation of the Asian cultivated rice (O. sativa) and the regionalized planting of the African cultigen (O. glaberrima) in West Africa. The genus Oryza originated in the Gondwanaland continents and, following the fracture of the supercontinent, became widely distributed in the humid tropics of Africa, South America, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania. The two cultivated species have had a common progenitor in the distant past. Parallel and independent evolutionary processes occurred in Africa and in Asia, following the sequence of: wild perennial→wild annual→cultivated annual. The weed races also contributed to the differentiation of the cultivated annuals. The corresponding members of the above series are O. longistaminata Chev. et Roehr., O. barthii A. Chev., O. glaberrima Steud., and the ‘stapfii’ forms of O. glaberrima in Africa; O. rufipogon Griff., O. nivara Sharma et Shastry, O. sativa L., and the ‘spontanea’ forms of O. sativa in Asia.

The differentiation and diversification of the annuals in South Asia were accelerated by marked climatic changes following the last glacial age, dispersal of plants over latitude or altitude, human selection, and manipulation of the cultural environment.

Cultivation of rice began in many parts of South and Southeast Asia, probably first in Ancient India. Cultural techniques such as puddling and transplanting were first developed in north and central China and later transmitted to Southeast Asia. Wetland culture preceded dryland culture in China, but in hilly areas of Southeast Asia, dryland cultivation is older than lowland culture. The planting method progressed from shifting cultivation to direct sowing in permanent fields, then to transplanting in bunded fields.

Widespread dispersal of the Asian cultigen led to the formation of three eco-geographic races (Indica. Sinica or Japonica, and Javanica) and distinct cultural types in monsoon Asia (upland, lowland, and deep water). Varietal types changed readily within the span of a millenium, largely due to cultivators' preferences, socio-religious traditions, and population pressure. Genetic differentiation developed parallel to the ecologic diversification process.

The African cultigen developed later than the Asian cultigen and has undergone less diversification. The wild races in South America and Oceania retain their primitive features mainly due to lack of cultivation pressure or dispersal.

Both the African and Asian rices are still undergoing evolutionary changes at habitats where the wild, weed, and cultivated races co-exist.

Index words

Oryza sativa O. glaberrima rice origin evolution history of cultivation dissemination diversification