Corn Porn

Censored CornWarning!  This post contains gratuitous cornography including graphic imagery of corn reproductive organs.  Male and female parts will be pictured and discussed in detail.  It’s July so that means all our corn has finished the vegetative stages of life and has now entered the reproductive phase.  I figure this is a good time to give all you readers a quick and dirty pictorial of how corn plants make corn kernels.  If you aren’t squeamish then keep reading!

You might think we are going to talk about the birds and the bees, but corn does not really need help from either of those pollinators.  Corn plants are interesting due to the fact each plant forms both male and female flowering parts.  The male portion of the plant is known as the tassel.  The tassel forms at the top of the plant and contains all the pollen grains.  When the time is right tassels will shed their pollen.  These grains won’t be shed all at once because the plant knows not to release pollen if the temperature and moisture aren’t right. That being said it should be noted that the worst thing for pollination is usually prolonged high temperatures.  Dry weather just compounds the issue.  See 2012 for how that worked out.  We entered the pollination phase with little moisture in the soil, and continued through the whole process with no rain coupled with abnormally high day and night temperatures.  I relate this weather to poor pollination by saying that nobody likes to be hot and dry during sex.

Corn Tassel

This tassel is shedding pollen now. The grains are very tiny so what you see falling off the tassel are called anthers. The pollen grains are inside these anthers.

Pollen grains are light, but most grains fall with a dozen or so yards from the plant.  I was in a popcorn field this week and there was a “mist” of pollen falling.  The grains were too tiny to capture on camera, but I could easily see them falling straight down even in a steady breeze.

Corn SilkSo where does all the pollen go?  To the silk of course!  Silks are really cool parts of the plant.  They capture the pollen grains which then begin travelling through the silk and into the ear.  Every silk is attached to a single ovule inside the ear which will form into a kernel upon successful pollination.  During pollination we must keep an eye out for bugs that love to feed on silks.  Silk clipping can have a detrimental effect on yield.  I saw Japanese beetles eating silks today, but the ears I checked were already pollinated.

Corn Ear and Silk

I pulled back the husk on this ear to show how the silk grows from each ovule that will eventually form a kernel of corn when a pollen grain reaches the ear.  Look close for a few anthers laying on the dark green leaf near the ear.

Corn pollinates in a relatively short window so warm days followed by cooler nights with a rain shower mixed in here or there is just perfect.  And it just so happens that my neck of the woods seems to be having just that kind of weather.  All our corn fields are pollinating right now and some even seem to be done and will now focus on filling the ears with kernels.  The plants are done adding leaves or growing taller.  Bob Nielson of the fabulous ag school at Purdue (Boiler Up!) offers a great write-up of corn pollination that goes much deeper than my post here.  You should definitely take a look at Dairy Carrie’s Corn Sex!  With Photos! for hilarious commentary the likes of “The tassel forms at the top of the corn plant at the start of pollination. It’s the stage where the corn’s voice starts to crack and it gets hair in strange places.”

Indiana Popcorn

You can clearly see the yellow tassels and purple silks on our popcorn. One may also notice that popcorn tassels are limp compared to the erect tassel from field corn pictured above.

Ear of Corn

A pollinated ear!

Beyond this point there isn’t a great deal we can do to influence the yield of our corn crop, but we have a long way to go until harvest.  If we think disease could be a problem (and it could considering the recent heat and humidity) now is the time to fly on fungicide if we believe an application is warranted.  A few more decent rains will help, but we’d rather not see storms with strong winds.  As a corn plant grows taller wind and hail can become its worst enemy.  So far in 2013 it looks like we are going to have a really strong corn crop.  Stay tuned in here and on facebook or twitter to see how the crop develops and ultimately yields!

 

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Comments

  1. Great post! My 5-year-old granddaughter Megan grew two stalks of corn this year in a planter box. She planted the seeds and tended the corn jntil it was mature. Because there were only two stalks, I showed her how to collect pollen from the tassels and use it to hand pollinate the silks. She did a good job and got two ears of corn on the cob! She wants to be a farmer when she grows up.

  2. Totally false advertising………… ahem…. is something I’m very much against… Interesting article though! On a different note, I buy those big bags of mixed bird seed and corn bits to feed the wildlife. A few weeks ago I thought I had a giant weed growing out of a large outdoor flower pot, turns out, it’s a stalk of corn? Any tips for growing one single corn stalk?

    Thanks

    1. Keep it watered regularly but no too wet. Some plant food will help it along. Stripes on the leaves indicate some sort of nutritional deficiency.

      1. Thank you! I’ll be interested to see if I can grow my very own corn stalk and managed to keep it safe from the chipmunks and squirrels.

        1. My sweet corn in the garden at home could stand to look a little better. Might have something to do with not doing any work in the garden until I finished the “real” planting which was late to begin with. I don’t think the garden got done until June 1st.

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