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Flowers in the Rice Paddy!

By Nick Storrs

As students return to school, our rice paddies have also crossed a major milestone this past weekend. We were greeted on Tuesday with the first flowers of the season, in a process botanists and farmers call “heading out.’ This is always an important time because it gives us a glimpse into how large the harvest will be in the fall.

The flowers individually are very small and a pale green shade. They are so nondescript because like many grains they rely on the wind to spread their pollen rather than insects and animals. But what further makes rice special is that a flower can pollinate itself, and often do before the flower has completely opened to the world. Because of this it is extremely easy to save seed from rice, and is an important of the growing process in many of the poorer regions of the world.  When the flowers are pollinated before they are fully open they have much less of a chance to be contaminated by other variety and make hybrids. Instead the seeds will often grow into plants that are very similar to their parent.

While our three beds were planted at different times and using different methodsof starting seeds, they all headed out at about the same time. The youngest bed headed out 4 days after the earliest bed did.  But the size of the panicles was very different. The panicle is a stem that supports many flowers and eventually many grains of rice. The panicles of the strong bed were 8-10 inches long while the smallest bed was only 6 inches or so. This will reflect the amount of rice harvest from each bed.

What is so cool is that I expected the different beds to flower a couple of weeks apart because of their different planting times. But they must flower based on a cue from the weather or length of day, because it all happen so quickly. What wasn’t surprising was which beds grew longer panicles and will grow more rice. When we harvest it will be interesting to compare how much rice came from each beds.

All of these little citizen science experiments can really help to give us an understanding of how rice growing in this region of the world.

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