Photo by Cornell University
Most of us know just one form of corn--a big ear crowded with starchy or sweet kernels. But there are many others, including tiny ears shaped like balls, slender ears with small kernels, giant ears, hard kernels (popcorns), pointed kernels, kernels that dry with a dent on top (the so-called dent corns that were bred long ago by Native Americans, relied on by the first breeders of hybrid corns, and almost certainly a parent of your breakfast cornflakes) and corns so sweet the kernels have almost lost the ability to sprout and start a new plant.
Then there are all the kernel colors, from almost black, through purple, bronze, and red to yellow, pale yellow and almost white. Some varieties have ears with three or four colors. The size varies wildly too. There are varieties under three feet tall bred by Native Americans to mature their ears in the short growing season of northern latitudes. There are varieties fifteen feet tall and taller. Years ago, one prizewinner grew 26 feet tall (staked to keep it upright). Modern breeding has focused on uniformity so corns today tend to be six feet tall or shorter.
Corn is a completely domesticated plant. It cannot raise itself unaided from one year to the next, even in a frost-free climate. It depends on gardeners and farmers to collect, store, and sow its seeds, to nourish the growing plants, and repeat the cycle year after year.
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