ZnO nanowire arrays were synthesized on zinc foil by a simple thermal evaporation process at relatively low temperature. Morphology and size controlled synthesis of the ZnO nanostructures was achieved by variation of the synthesis temperature, reaction time and the surface roughness of the substrate. A gas-solid and self-catalytic liquid-solid mechanism is proposed for the growth of nanowires at different temperatures. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) showed that the as-grown nanowires were of single crystal hexagonal wurtzite structure, growing along the  direction. Photoluminescence exhibited strong UV emission at ∼382 nm and a broad green emission at ∼513 nm with 325 nm excitation. Raman spectroscopy revealed a phonon confinement effect when compared with results from bulk ZnO. The nanowire arrays also exhibited a field emission property.