Cereals of the West and Central African savannas include two wild rices. One, Oryza barthii, is the wild progenitor of the African domesticated rice (see African rice chapter, page 17, and especially the map, page 23). An annual, it tends to grow in shallow depressions that fill with water during the rains but later dry up. It produces abundant seed and is still harvested on a considerable scale.
The second species, Oryza longistaminata, is perennial and thus requires a more continuous supply of moisture. It is a relatively shy seeder, but its grain is sometimes harvested in sufficient quantities to reach the local markets.
A third wild rice (Oryza punctata) is indigenous to eastern Africa. This so-called "wadi rice" is a freely tillering annual that grows up to 1.5 m tall, and it, too, commonly occurs in rain-flooded depressions. Its seeds are relatively large and resemble those of cultivated rice except that they have a reddish husk. In Central Sudan, where wadi rice is widespread, the grains are boiled with water or milk and eaten as a staple.
Among other wild African grasses that are, at least on a few occasions, used as food are the following. Little or nothing is known about these or their food uses, but certain botanical tomes contain the following cryptic comments.
Urochloa mosambicensis. Central and East Africa. Grains boiled.
Urochloa trichopus. Tropical Africa. Grains sometimes eaten.
Themeda triandra. Tropical and southern Africa. Perennial grass.
Grain eaten during times of famine. Forms principal cover in fireclimax savanna areas. Used as fodder for livestock. Possibly of use in papermaking. Used a lot for thatching; bundles are sold in Ethiopian
markets for the purpose.
Latipes senegalensis. Tropical Africa. Annual grass. Seeds are eaten by desert tribes.
Eragrostis ciliaris.18 Widespread in tropics. Grains used as famine food.
Eragrostis gangetica. Tropical Africa and Asia. Grains used as famine food.
This and the following Eragrostis species are related to tef (see chapter 12, page 215).