Corn—An Ancient Plant Serves Modern Man
By “Awake!” correspondent in Honduras
HOT buttered popcorn, juicy sweet corn on the cob, tender, sweet corn muffins, fresh from the oven—yes, corn, or maize, prepared in various ways is very popular. But did you know that in many lands corn was introduced only recently, whereas in other places it has a very ancient history?
When Christopher Columbus set sail in the late 1400’s, corn was unknown in Europe. Yet it was then extensively cultivated on the whole American continent, from Canada to Chile. Today, nearly 500 years later, corn is also produced on a large scale in such places as China, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, the Republic of South Africa, India and Romania.
Perhaps some 3,000 years ago, the first corn farmers were the American Indians, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Mayas and others. They believed corn to be a god or goddess and even thought that they themselves had been formed from corn. Each Indian tribe had its own rituals, dances and ceremonies in honor of the corn deity. Also, when a person died some corn was buried with him, in the belief that this would provide for him in the afterworld.
To persons having limited acquaintance with corn, it may come as a surprise to learn that there are such varieties as black corn, pink corn, red corn and white corn, besides the better-known yellow corn.
Today new varieties are obtained by artificial hybridization. To get choice new seed, the ears of corn are covered with bags so that undesirable wind-borne pollen will not fertilize the seed. Pollen is taken from the same plant to fertilize it. Thus, pure strains are obtained. Later these can be crossed with a different pure variety. Sometimes a third cross is made to obtain the best results from the parent plants. Seed from such hybrids is very productive. However, the disadvantage is that new seed must be purchased for each planting.
Now we might take a closer look at the growing corn. The plant itself is diclinous, that is, the stamens and pistils (male and female reproductive parts) are found in separate flowers. When the plants are crowned with a tuft of masculine flowers, golden in color from the pollen, the corn is spoken of as being in flower. Wind scatters the pollen, thereby fertilizing the female flowers growing along the stalk of the plant. Usually there are two or three of such flowers per plant, supported by wide green leaves that sometimes grow to be about three feet (one meter) long.
Once the flowers are fertilized, the grains of corn begin to grow on the cob. Then, before the corn reaches maturity, additional roots sprout from the knotty ends of the lower roots, spreading beneath the soil in a crablike fashion.
In order to obtain a good harvest, when not buying hybrid seed, it is necessary to choose grain of uniform size and shape from strong plants and excellent cobs. This seed should be planted in deep, fresh soil, rich in humus, nitrogen and moisture. Corn also needs plenty of sunlight. Careful cultivation is required, for, although it will survive in almost any soil, corn will only produce abundantly when its growing conditions are most favorable. When the plants have grown to about a third of their height, the corn patch should be weeded, and earth should be mounded around the base of each plant, to provide support as well as nutrients from the soil. When the husks turn from green to an ashy yellow color, the time has come for harvesting the ripe ears of corn. In many places, the corn harvest is followed by a new planting of beans or other legumes in order to replace the nutrients that corn takes from the soil.
Is the labor involved in raising this crop truly worth while? Most assuredly. Consider for a moment some of the additional products that are derived from corn—cooking oil, salad dressing, margarine, syrup and candy. Some alcoholic beverages are made from fermented corn mash. The grain, cobs and leaves are used as feed for cattle and other domestic animals. Also, many nonfood items are obtained from corn derivatives—soap, cosmetics, glycerin, explosives, medicines, glue for stamps and envelopes, erasers, shoe soles, sponges, paper and the like.
Truly, we have good reason to appreciate this wonderful plant. It provides one more evidence that the true God has furnished abundant variety for man’s needs.