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An ancient native of the Indian subcontinent (probably the southern foothills of the East Himalayas), cultivated rice is actually a grass, related to wheat and oats--and is entirely one species: of the species Sativa, of the genus oryza, of the family Gramineae. There are some 25 other edible species, actually, but all are a little too ornery to cultivate, compared to this most accommodating Sativa oryza.
Subspecies, by contrast, are legion--almost uncountable--though there is still no agreement, after all these centuries, on a classification system for them. Some say there are only 2 types of Sativa oryza: 1) indica (or, in Chinese, xian), which is long grain and sticky; and 2) japonica (geng, in Chinese), which is short grain and various shades of sticky. One problem. Nearly all south east Asian rices are long grain and NOT sticky. So maybe there's a third type: javanica, which apparently originated in Java.
Rice moved slowly from its original home in northeastern India, but reached south and central China and Southeast Asia by 2000 BCE. Remains of cultivated rice found in the central Yangtze Valley of China are estimated to be about 8,500 years old. Rice reached Indonesia and the Philippines by the first century AD, and spread further east and west into Japan and the Mideast somewhere between 300 BCE and 200 AD (the prophet Mohammed was said to love it cooked in butter). Although Alexander the Great is credited to introducing it to Europe, Greeks and Romans reacted indifferently--they knew about rice and used it as a medicine, but weren't interested in growing it. It finally reached northern Europe in the 13th century. Only in the 17th century did rice cross the Atlantic to the New World.
Culturally, rice has long been associated with fertility. A survival of this association in American society is its tradition of pelting brides and grooms with rice as they leave the church.
In Japan, grains are called "little Buddhas"--and they are customarily soaked before cooking to release their life energy, thus giving the eater a peaceful soul. Click HERE to read a Japanese folktale about "Rice and the Foxwife."
The primary purpose of growing rice in flooded paddies is to drown the rice seedlings' weedy competition--it can, in fact, be grown in drained areas.