The corn plant has a pithy noded stalk supported by prop roots. The staminate (male) flowers form the tassel at the top of the plant. The pistillate (female) flowers are the kernels on the cob, which is enclosed by a leafy husk beyond which extend threadlike styles and stigmas (the silk), which catch the pollen. The corn plant with its ornamental tassel and ears has been a motif of American art since prehistoric times.
The plant is a grass that was domesticated and cultivated in the Americas long before Europeans reached the New World; genetic and archaeological evidence indicates it was first domesticated c.7000 B.C. Corn has dramatically changed from the ancestral wild grass that was its original form, teosinte ( Zea species), a tropical American fodder plant in which the seeds are not united in a cob. It has been so adapted to cultivation that it cannot sustain itself without human cultivation. The Native Americans had many varieties of corn, e.g., sweet corn, popcorn, and corn for corn meal. White, yellow, red, and blue corn were grown as distinct strains.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.