|The thing to
know about the corn plant, or maize, is that it is a grass. It's a member of the Grass
Family, just like crabgrass, wheat, rice, oats, bamboo and sugarcane. Corn's scientific
name is Zea mays. Mankind has changed the corn plant very much from its
primitive, wild ancestors.
To understand corn flowers it might help to know the basics about average grass flowers, as explained on our Grass Flower page.
On each corn plant, male flowers are in one place, at the top, and female flowers are at another, about halfway down the plant. The corn grains we eat are formed by the female flowers.
A cluster of male flowers is shown at the left. Such a cluster of male corn flower is referred to as a tassel. Each arm of each tassel bears many individual male flowers. The pale items looking like grains of rice dangling from the tassel arms in the picture are anthers, where pollen is produced and released into the air. The picture at the right shows two male flowers from the tassel, with three anthers on very slender filaments emerging from one of the flowers. Each male corn flower produces three male stamens consisting of an anther and a filament. You might notice that these flowers look very much like the typical grass flowers shown on our Grass Flower page.
Some of the pollen released from the male flowers falls onto silks of immature ears of corn below the tassels. Typically the male flowers and the female flowers mature at different times, so self-pollination doesn't occur. At the left you see an immature ear of corn with silks emerging at the ear's top. Corn ears such as the one at the left contain the corn plant's female flowers. When pollen grains fall onto the silks, the female flowers are being pollinated.
Each of those slender silks you see at the left is the style of the corn plant's female flower. Remember from our Standard Blossom page that the female part of a blossom, the pistil, consists of the stigma, style and ovary.
A pollen grain germinates on the stigma, the sex germ migrates from the pollen grain into the style, then down the style, and finally enter the ovules inside the pistil's ovary, where fertilization takes place. The individual pistils mature into grains or kernels of corn. At the right you see the much-magnified tip of a single corn silk. Note the hairs which help catch the pollen and hold it, and notice how the very tip at the top, the stigma, is hairiest of all.
At the left you see how each single silk, or style, arises from the top of a single corn ovary, the eventual kernel. In this picture the ovaries are very immature. At the base of the lowest ovary you can barely see some some chaffy, leaf-like structures. These are modified from the glumes, lemmas and paleas we encounter among typical grasses on the Grass Flower page.
At the right you see an ear of Indian corn grown in my own garden. I've pulled back some of the shucks -- the husks -- covering the ears so you can see how the silks (the styles) are arranged inside the shucks, and each silk goes to one kernel of corn. Just think, the male sex germ must travel all the way from the stigma at the end of the silk to the grain of corn deep inside the shucks.
At the left you see a much-magnified grain of Indian corn that is mature, about the size of a pea. The yellow arrow points to the shriveled-up remnant of its style, or silk.