What is the Purpose of Corn Silk?

What is the Purpose of Corn Silk? via thefarmerslife.comThat stringy stuff on your sweet corn serves a very important purpose. So important you wouldn’t have sweet corn to eat without corn silk. It’s kind of annoying because most of it comes off when you peel back the husk, but some of it seems to really want to hang on the ear. There are plenty of blog posts, videos, and tools available to remove those pesky strings from your corn, but have you wondered why it’s even there in the first place? I raise corn for a living so I have the answer!

What is Corn Silk Really?

Corn silk is simply one of the female parts of the corn plant. The male part of corn is the tassel which sprouts from the top of the plant. The pollen comes from the tassel. Corn silks are actually tiny tubes where grains of pollen will land. The pollen will travel down the silk tube to the unfertilized ear inside the husk. I cover this process in more detail in another post.

An Essential Process

Each kernel you see on an ear of corn is the result of a successful fertilization of an ovule by a grain of pollen travelling down one corn silk. This process happening at the right time in the right conditions is critical to a good yield. Ideally a corn field will not experience heat or moisture stress during pollination. Insects can sometimes cause a problem known as silk clipping. When silks first emerge they are high in moisture which can attract insects. Clipped silks have less chance of capturing pollen and forming a kernel.

Corn Silk via thefarmerslife.com

These corn silks hanging from an ear of corn are at the early stages of pollination. Look close at the ear and you’ll see the kernels of corn have not really formed yet. The number of potential kernels has been determined a few weeks before silking, but fertilization and kernel development is not yet complete.

 

So now you know why corn silk, although it may be a minor nuisance, is absolutely mission critical to having sweet corn on your plate. Or popcorn. Or any other kind of corn!

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