Archeological studies indicate that corn was first cultivated by the primitive people of Mesoamerica about 5,600 years ago. Corn or maize was the primary starch for Native Americans for centuries and is considered the “mother grain” of the Americas. The term maize comes from the Spanish form (maiz) of the Arawak Native Americans.
Today what we call Indian corn is not commonly used for food, but as part of our fall décor. The colorful, dried ears come in a rainbow of striped, speckled and solid colors and can last for years. The coloring of the kernels is attributed to a “jumping gene” or more technically a transposon. Transposons are genes that move from one location to another within an organism’s genetic material. In the case of corn, the transposon is moving into or out of the gene responsible for pigment in the kernel. When the transposon moves into the pigment gene, it disrupts pigment production, the pigment is not produced, and the kernel appears white. When the transposon moves out of the pigment gene, pigment is produced again and appears as purple, brown or red. The point in development when the transposon is moving in or out of the pigment gene determines whether the kernel appears white, speckled, striped or colored. Voila!
Corn grows best in plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. When it comes to planting and spacing, refer to the package directions. Soak the corn seeds for several hours, but not more than eight hours before planting. Since corn requires a large amount of nitrogen for leaf development, many gardeners plant beans near or around the corn. The corn stalks provide support for the beans and the bean roots introduce nitrogen into the soil for the corn. Plant some squash, too. The large squash leaves will provide shade to the soil, help keep it moist, and prevent the growth of weeds. I have been told that the prickly squash leaves keep raccoons away as they don’t like to step on them. This planting combination is called “Three Sisters.”
Did you know that the number of silks per ear of corn is equal to the number of kernels on the cob? Each silk is pollinated to produce one kernel of corn. If you look very closely at a kernel of corn you will see a small tail. That is where the silk was attached.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.