Corn School: The birds and the bees — of corn, that is

Have you ever wondered just exactly how your corn develops in the cob? Understanding how corn makes a cob, successful kernels, and packs in starch can be a key component of an agronomic plan.

“This top part is the tassel, and that is the male part of the plant,” says Sara Meidlinger, market development agronomist for Pride Seeds. “Then we have the ear here, it’s going to develop silks, and it’s the female part of the plant.”

In this episode of Corn School, Meidlinger gives us an overview of how pollination happens and what to expect during a corn crop’s reproductive stages.

The tassel will emerge and start to shed pollen, and kernels in the ears will shoot up a silk. Every kernel in a cob starts from a developing a silk, which is then fertilized by pollen from the tassel. A pollen tube develops, where the male genetics will travel down the silk towards the kernel. The whole process will take about seven to 10 days. Peak pollen shed from the tassel happens about three to four days after the process has started.

Meidlinger suggests pulling off some ears and getting familiar with your crop over the next couple of weeks. There are six stages that get that cob of corn to maturity:

  • Silking: when pollination is happening, pollen is germinating on silks, pollen travels down the pollen tube to the kernel
  • Blister: kernel is starting to develop, dry matter starts to accumulate, kernels are milky
  • Milk: dry matter still accumulating, kernel gets plumper, rows fill in, yellow tinge
  • Dough: still accumulating dry matter and starch, kernels start to harden and fill in, yellow fully developed
  • Dent: dents develop in the cap of the kernel, starch is turning from a liquid to a solid, might see the start of the milk line
  • Mature: kernel is fully developed, starch is solid, black line at the base of the kernel

If you happen to come across European corn borer or cutworm— perhaps you’ve had corn heavy in the rotation — it might be a good opportunity to switch to a different hybrid. While you’re checking on your corn’s maturity, it’s a good time to scout for any insect issues, too.

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