Monday, January 21, 2013

Tassel Ear Corn

Tassel-ear that another garden produced.
Back in July we planted several blocks of corn in our college garden.  July is the normal time to plant corn in the Arizona Sonoran Desert.  The corn we planted was a normal desert adapted variety that was supposed to mature in about 70 days and grow to about five feet.  This would mean we would harvest our corn about the first of October.  Some of the corn grew exactly as we expected.  Most of it however just kept growing and growing and growing until December (150 days) and never reached maturity.  The corn grew to over 10 feet tall and produced weird tassel-ears at about five feet.  Oddly, this extremely tall tassel-ear corn was the exact same variety as the corn that grew to only five feet and reached maturity in 70 days. 

Why the extreme difference?  We wondered if we had messed-up by planting some other seeds instead.  But we could find no evidence of that.  We also wondered if we had some mutant corn.  Again, no evidence.  We also wondered if we had planted to late in the season.  Probably not since the varieties of corn we planted normally are planted that time of year.  So what was mutating this corn into a gigantic tassel-ear plant?

With a little more investigation we found that the soil where our gigantic mutant corn grew had extremely high clay content and was very commonly saturated with water.  Water was often found pooling in this area.  Areas where the corn grew as would normally be expected also had slightly lower clay content but were not saturated with water and did not have pooling issues.  But we had no good explanation for why poorly aerated, high clay content, water saturated soils would produce gigantic mutant tassel-ear corn.  So we took to the internet, where answers to all good gardening questions are found of course...

What we found was the condition of tassel-ear corn.  This is where corn cobs also form tassels, just as our corn did.  Our corn appears to be an extreme example of this condition though with the corn cob actually becoming very elongated and forming mostly tassel.  Apparently this condition is common where corn plants are growing under poor soil conditions, just like ours.  No one knows what triggers tassel-ears but from what I read, all corn cobs start off as both male and female, or both tassel and corn cob.  Hormonal changes in the cob during development normally cause the cob to become fully female and produce seed and not a tassel.  For some reason, tassel-ear corn does not have a hormonal change and the result is a corn cob that is both male and female.  This condition does not however explain why our corn grew twice as tall and for twice as long as it should have.  I could find no explanation for these weird problems though.  For now, I'm simply blaming poor soil conditions on everything.

1 comment:

  1. I had corn that had ears where the tassels should be. Also grown on heavy clay with unusual amounts of rainfall this year. 2 plants did it out of around 50.