Three dominant morphological fractions (i.e. leaf blade (LB), leaf sheath (LS) and stem) were analysed for chemical composition and ruminal degradability in three rice straw varieties. In one variety treated with alkali, cell wall features were also characterized using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and Scanning Electron Microscopy. The highest concentrations of cell wall carbohydrates (hemicellulose and cellulose) were observed in LS, whereas the highest concentrations of non-fibre (silica, phenolic compounds and CP) and lignin were recorded for LB. The stem had the lowest silica and hemicellulose contents but intermediate levels of other components. In terms of ruminal degradability, stem ranked higher than LB, which was followed by LS. Hemicellulose was found to be less degradable than either dry matter or cellulose in all the three fractions investigated. FTIR results indicated that the highest levels of hydrogen bonding, esterification and crystallinity within the cell wall components belonged to LS. In the alkaline treatment, these indices decreased to a larger extent for leaf fractions and a greater improvement was achieved in the degradability of LB and LS compared with that of stem. In the 24-h ruminal incubation, the silicified layer of epidermis and the underlying cell walls showed a rigid structure in the control fractions, whereas the treatment with NaOH resulted in crimping of the silicified cuticle layer and the loss of integrity in cell structure. Despite the highest silica and lignin contents observed in LB, LS showed the lowest degradability, which might be due to its high level of hydrogen bonding, crystallinity and esterification within its cell wall components as well as its high hemicellulose content.