How to Plant Black Madras Ornamental Rice (Oryza sativa)

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Photo by Scott Schryvers / CC BY-NC 2.0

Black madras belongs to the Poaceae family, which is a truly massive planting family containing over 10,000 species of true grasses and bamboos! It is a decorative grass that is popular for its stunning display of darkly colored, elegant leaves for most months of the year. It is often planted to fill in the borders of garden ponds and to complement other flowering plants.

Oryza sative is native to Southeast Asia, but many cultivars have since made their way to much of the rest of the world for food production. Due to its use as a food source, ability to help filter water, and dislike of cold or dry climates, black madras and other sub-varieties within this species are not typically regarded as invasive.

At the beginning stage of growth, black madras will develop green leaves which will then deepen to a mahogany or burgundy color throughout the growing season. During its blooming period, black madras will produce green inflorescence and then seed pods of rice. It is also known in the plant community as purple grass or purple-leaved rice.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Black Madras

Black madras is a cultivar of the same species (Oryza sativa) that we know as common rice, an important staple food for much of the world’s population. Oryza sativa originates in Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It now exists in many different crop varieties all around the world.

While black madras is not typically grown for human consumption and has instead been selected for its appearance, it does provide cover for animals, and when in bloom the seeds provide a source of food for birds and small mammals. The roots and shoots also provide habitat for a multitude of aquatic invertebrates, which in turn provide valuable nutrient-rich food for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Additionally, multiple studies have found Oryza sativa to be adept at soaking up excess nutrients and pollutants, thus aiding in improving water and soil quality, particularly in areas with high runoff.

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Black Madras Fact Sheet:
Semi-Aquatic Annual Grass
USDA 10 – 12
Full sun
Bright green
July – October (Summer to Fall)
Height 40-45 cm (≈16-18 in.)
0-5 cm (2 in.) of water or soil above roots
pH 5.5 – 7.0

Black Madras Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Black Madras Ornamental Rice. Photo by MULTITI

Black madras can grow in standing water, on the border of a garden pond, or in a wetland garden depending on your water and soil pH. This grass grows best with access to full sunlight and warm temperatures. Throughout the season, it will expand to form dense clumps of grass, up to 20 cm wide, which provides a nice foreground to a garden.

It will bloom in late summer or early fall, generally from July to October. At this time, the leaves will become even more vibrant and the plant will bloom bright green spikelets which then droop as rice grain seeds. The grass will die back and dry out with winter, turning brown and decomposing if not removed.

How to Plant Black Madras In Ponds

Plant black madras by pressing seeds into the soil in the spring after the final frost, generally from February to May. The ideal soil types for growing are clay or loam, as these contain ample moisture and nutrients. It can be planted in perpetually moist soil or underwater, ideally no more than 5 cm deep. It can also be planted indoors early in the year and then transplanted outside when the temperature is ideal.

If grown in a container, use a container that does not have drainage holes. It should germinate after 7-10 days. It may also be available as small potted starters, which should be planted in the soil in the same conditions as the seeds.

How to Care For Black Madras

This plant is easy to care for once it has sprouted! The main rule in caring for it is it should never be allowed to dry out. Otherwise, it is pretty hardy on its own as long as you live in a climate where the temperature during the growing months remains above 16 degrees C/60 degrees F.

How to Winter Black Madras

Black madras is not tolerant of the cold. As an annual, it will complete its life cycle and start to die off by wintertime. Remove it by the end of the season to keep your garden area clean and prevent any decaying vegetation from getting into your pond and degrading water quality. You can potentially bring it indoors for winter, if desired, or you can simply harvest seeds from your existing plants and use those the following year as a cost-effective solution.

Is Black Madras Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?u

Rice as a crop is known to accumulate arsenic if subjected to high levels through the irrigation system, which is one reason that water quality is important in safe crop production. In a home garden, this should not be a concern as you likely will not be eating it. Black madras is normally not toxic to wildlife or humans, with the exception of when it’s grown in especially polluted areas where the rice soaks up these pollutants. It is generally not invasive in most areas as it does not tolerate cold winters and dry conditions.

Is Black Madras Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

It is edible, just like cultivated rice. However, black madras specifically has not been bred for mass consumption and the rice grain quality and yield are not up to the usual standard for human consumption. Some people like to harvest and cook this variety as a fun experiment, but you’re not likely to harvest a large amount.

When they have turned completely brown towards the end of the season, you can harvest the seed heads by cutting them from the stems. Like all rice, the grains must also be properly processed to remove the hulls from the edible germ. One recommended method is to let the pods dry out completely, then bake for an hour at about 95 degrees C/200 degrees F, which makes the grains easier to separate.

Fish might eat the grains if they fall into the water, but it shouldn’t be harmful to them if they eat a few grains here and there. However, koi and other fish are not adapted to process carbohydrates very efficiently, and a diet too rich in these can result in a multitude of health issues. Carbohydrates should compose less than 10% of koi and goldfish diet, else they can suffer liver degeneration and developmental abnormalities.

Where to Buy Black Madras & Seeds? (UK & US)

Seed packets can be purchased online or in-person from garden centers. Packets are often sold containing large quantities of seeds. If your packet contains more than 50 seeds, they don’t need to be planted all at once. Seeds should remain viable for 2-3 years.

Once you have successfully grown black madras for a season, you can also save yourself from purchasing seeds every year by harvesting the seeds, letting them dry out, and then storing them until next season.

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Rebecca H
About the author

Rebecca H

Ambitiously passionate about conservation, eco-sustainability, and having new experiences and adventures! Alongside writing, I work as a Herpetological Technician, collecting and analyzing data about endangered reptile species. I'm also skilled with the proper identification of native and invasive flora and fauna, as well as habitat assessment/restoration of a variety of ecosystem types.

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