There are two cultivated and twenty-one wild species of genus Oryza. O. sativa, the Asian cultivated rice is grown all over the world. The African cultivated rice, O. glaberrima is grown on a small scale in West Africa. The genus Oryza probably originated about 130 million years ago in Gondwanaland and different species got distributed into different continents with the breakup of Gondwanaland. The cultivated species originated from a common ancestor with AA genome. Perennial and annual ancestors of O. sativa are O. rufipogon and O. nivara and those of O. glaberrima are O. longistaminata, O. breviligulata and O. glaberrima probably domesticated in Niger river delta. Varieties of O. sativa are classified into six groups on the basis of genetic affinity. Widely known indica rices correspond to group I and japonicas to group VI. The so called javanica rices also belong to group VI and are designated as tropical japonicas in contrast to temperate japonicas grown in temperate climate. Indica and japonica rices had a polyphyletic origin. Indicas were probably domesticated in the foothills of Himalayas in Eastern India and japonicas somewhere in South China. The indica rices dispersed throughout the tropics and subtropics from India. The japonica rices moved northward from South China and became the temperate ecotype. They also moved southward to Southeast Asia and from there to West Africa and Brazil and became tropical ecotype. Rice is now grown between 55 degrees N and 36 degrees S latitudes. It is grown under diverse growing conditions such as irrigated, rainfed lowland, rainfed upland and floodprone ecosystems. Human selection and adaptation to diverse environments has resulted in numerous cultivars. It is estimated that about 120,000 varieties of rice exist in the world. After the establishment of International Rice Research Institute in 1960, rice varietal improvement was intensified and high yielding varieties were developed. These varieties are now planted to 70% of world's riceland. Rice production doubled between 1966 and 1990 due to large scale adoption of these improved varieties. Rice production must increase by 60% by 2025 to feed the additional rice consumers. New tools of molecular and cellular biology such as anther culture, molecular marker aided selection and genetic engineering will play increasing role in rice improvement.