American Agriculturist, 25: 219-220 (June 1866)
Peruvian Maize—Introduction of, etc.
Hon. E. George Squire
New York City
I have made some efforts, necessarily in a small way, to introduce into the United States some varieties of what I regard as the finest maize or Indian corn in the world, and 'which I found growing, in great luxuriance, In the Valley of the Rio Vilcamayo, Urubamba, in Peru, about sixteen miles to the westward of the city of Cuzco, the Capital of the Inca Empire. The river Vilcamayo, which, lower down, takes the name of Ucayali, is the true source of the Amazon. Its valley is narrow throughout, often no more than a mere cañon, shut in on both sides by high and snowy mountains. Nevertheless there are sections where it widens out to the width of from a quarter of a mile to a mile, affording room for cultivation, which is often much extended by an elaborate system of terracing up the hills and mountains to great bights. The particular intervale to which I refer, was the country seat or resort of the Incas, outside of their Capital, where they had a palace and extensive "hanging gardens," which are nearly as perfect to‑day as when first built. The place then as now was called Yucay, and was celebrated In the yaravis or songs, as the "Seat of Delights."
The mountains shutting in the charming vale of Yucay, are of a disintegrating limestone, and the soil is remarkably fertile and well irrigated through azequias, dating from the time of the Incas. The principal article of production in the valley is maize, of which there are three varieties—the white, yellow, and black or purple.
The white is the largest in grain and most valued; the yellow is smallest, more compact, and probably hardier; while the black is sweetest, and most in demand for fermentation in making chicha. I give herewith accurate drawings of average kernels of three kinds.
The maize blanca, or white variety, is that which most impressed me. The ear is rather short and thick, the cob small, the stalk stout and vigorous, with fleshier leaves than our varieties of maize throw out, and the roots start out in rings, two inches or more apart, for a hight of from twelve to twenty inches from the top root. It requires therefore a deep soil and to be planted deeply. The natives plant it in rows, in rather deep furrows, and plow between the rows twice in the season. The numbers and grasp of the roots, give the stalk, as I have said, an appearance of vigor and strength, such as I have seen nowhere else. Each stalk sends out from six to eight, and even more ears. The kernels have a thin pellicle, and are exceedingly farinaceous, so sweet and pleasant to the taste as to be rather agreeable food, even when eaten raw, and absolutely delicious when boiled or made into bread. The meal or flour is as white and delicate as that of wheat.
The valley of Yucay is about 10,000 feet above the sea, and produces wheat and barley. The peach and apple grow in it, and the wild black cherry is indigenous. There is no winter, in our sense of the word, but there is the dry, cold season, which pretty much suspends vegetation, and gives the fields the aspect of early December. Regarding these circumstances, I thought it not impossible that this maize, as well as the yellow and black, might be acclimatized in some parts of our own country, and I accordingly brought home some ears, and last spring distributed it, in small quantities, pretty widely. I have not heard the result in all cases. Some planted in rather light soil, rather late in the season, in the ordinary way, in Schenectady County, in this State, grew to the bight of fourteen feet, tasselled, but only sent out rudimentary ears, and was much afflicted with the blight. The stalks sent out their root rings for a foot or more above the highest billing. Some planted in various parts of Westchester County, also rather late, grew vigorously to the hight of from fifteen to sixteen feet, developed a few ears, containing, however, but few kernels, and was cut off by the frost. Altogether, the experiments in this latitude were not very satisfactory, leading to the conclusion that our season is not long enough to enable it to ripen. Mr. Solon Robinson, who planted a few grains, says, "it grew immense stalks, without ears," and thinks that "if we could get seed every year it would be very valuable here for fodder." He is of opinion it will not ripen north of Philadelphia, but would succeed in South Carolina. Some planted on Staten Island, sent up stalks to the hight of fourteen feet., with air roots three feet above the ground.—The most successful experiment was made by Mr. Bayard Taylor, on his farm not far from Lancaster, Pa., who writes:
"My dear Sir,—These are the facts of my experiment with the Peruvian maize.—The grains were planted in small pots about the middle of April, and set in a hot‑bed. Three weeks afterward, when the shoots were four or five inches high, they were planted in the open ground. The growth of the canes was rapid and vigorous, and they attained the hight of twelve to fifteen feet, before there was any sign of tassel. Even after the tassels came, two or three weeks more elapsed without the Indication of a single ear, and it was only in September that eight or ten small ears made their appearance. About the middle of October, seeing that there was no possibility of these ears ripening sufficiently to furnish seed, I pulled them. Three or four showed only two or three scattered grains; the others were tolerably well set, the grains being fully as large as the original seed. When cooked we found their flavor far beyond that of any maize we had ever tasted,—wonderfully succulent, sweet and delicate.
I was struck with the growth of circles of roots from each joint to the cane, to the hight of twelve or eighteen inches from the soil, and it occurred to me, but at too late a period to make any change, that the plants should have been set in trenches, and these new roots covered with earth as fast as they were thrown out.
This is about all I have to communicate. I shall be very glad to try again, because my climate is a little more favorable, I think, than that of New York, and I want to secure seed if possible. The flavor of the corn is so delicious that it would be a pity if we cannot somehow naturalize it." Very truly yours,
I think the introduction of this maize would be a real boon to the country, and I am sure it could be grown in the Southern States.—It would cost about $50 to get three or four bushels of this maize over the Andes, and to this port. I propose that fifty gentlemen send a dollar each to the editor of this paper, for this purpose, so that the experiment of introducing this maize may be tried on an adequate scale. I will undertake the correspondence and arrangements to get the seed here.—E.G.S.