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Manchurian wild rice is a giant grass that grows up to 4m high. It has harsh, dull green leaves that are 1-2cm wide and grow in fans. The purplish or red-brown flower heads are 40-60cm long and are produced from November to December. Manchurian wild rice is often confused with native raupō and flax, but raupō is slightly smaller, has bluish-green leaves and dies back in winter. Flax leaves are much smoother and shinier.
In New Zealand, Manchurian wild rice has been recorded from lagoons, river banks, tidal flats, roadside ditches, damp pasture and cropping land. It is a relatively hardy plant that can grow in both fresh and salt water.
Manchurian wild rice forms dense stands in aquatic or semi-terrestrial situations. It is very invasive and quickly spreads on land that is not grazed. It is tolerant of drought, frost and poor drainage but does not tolerate shade. Regrowth from underground rhizomes occurs after physical damage, such as fire and grazing.
Manchurian wild rice reproduces through seed and through its rhizomes (roots), which spread slowly outwards.