Nature Bulletin No. 118 May 31, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
Corn, or maize, has never been found growing wild. Columbus found
it being grown by the Carib Indians and called it " Mahiz". The Aztecs
told Cortez it was a gift from their gods, but the Mayas and the Incas
already had been growing corn for thousands of years. Teosinte, a
coarse native Mexican grass, appears to be its closest relative and its
origin was probably in Central or South America. Our first colonists
planted seed obtained from the Indians and, "corn" being the English
word for all grain, called this strange new plant "Indian corn".
Without man' s help, corn soon would disappear. Each year the seed
must be carefully selected, carefully planted, and the soil kept
cultivated to remove competition from other plants. Modern scientific
breeding has produced varieties remarkable for their rapid growth,
uniform size and heavy yield.
Unlike other grasses and grains, corn bears two different flowers on
the same stalk. The tassel at the top is the male flower. It sheds pollen
on the ears, the female flowers down on the stalk, each tufted with the
sticky ends of many threads of " silk" . At the inner end of each thread,
fertilized by one microscopic grain of pollen, a kernel develops. The
mature ear is a compact mass of solid kernels in parallel rows upon the
Corn is now grown in temperate climates all over the world. Three
billion bushels per year are produced in the United States, three-
fourths of it grown in eight middle western states of the Corn. Belt. It
is by far our greatest crop in acreage, bulk and value. Four-fifths of it
is fed to livestock. A small percentage is used to make hominy grits!
corn meal and breakfast foods. Most of the remainder is processed into
sugars, oils and starches. About 80 percent of the solid matter in a
kernel is starch and more than 30 big industries, including alcohol,
cotton goods, steel, explosives, candies, and adhesives depend upon
refined corn starch. The germ yields oil for cooking, oleomargarine,
soaps and glycerin. The production of penicillin, sulfa tablets and
other vital medicines depend upon corn. The cobs are used for pipes
and plastics; the stalks for paper and wallboard.
Upon this plant of unknown origin rests the prosperity of this nation.
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Update: June 2012