Meehans’ Monthly 3: 105 (July 1893)


An extremely interesting lesson in vegetable morphology may be derived from the study of Indian corn. If we take what is known as an "eight rowed" ear of corn, we can often see that it is made up of four pieces, the seeds being arranged on either side of each piece. If these four pieces were separate but joined at the base, and then drawn up through the hand so that the four pieces were to unite by their backs, and then these pieces were to become a little succulent and adhere, we should have precisely the ear of corn. Now if we take what is known as the tassel of the Indian corn, we see that it is usually made up of four pieces, just as in this theoretical conception, with a row of staminate flowers at the edges of each piece; and if they were drawn up through the hand so as to touch back by back, and then become succulent, we should equally have the ear of corn but with male flowers.

In other words, the method of forming the ear of corn and the tassel is precisely the same, and we can see that one can be formed out of the other if only there were less power of adhesion in the ear of corn, and a greater power of cohesion in the tassel. Just what is the power that induces cohesion and succulency in the one case, or the lack of it in the other, is the one thing that has not yet been ascertained. It is however a great gain to see the method by which nature forms the different sexes of flowers, although we may not be able to understand the exact details of these methods. The conditions however required, must be very nice, for we frequently find grains of corn among the tassels instead of barren flowers; on the other hand, we frequently find barren flowers coming out of the ear of corn, just as if nature was uncertain in either case whether to make the barren or the fertile flowers. Herewith are illustrations, (see page 104, fig. 2) of these cases. In the one case an ear of corn has taken on a considerable amount of the characteristic of the barren tassel, with its male flowers; while in the other case, a very large number of the male flowers of the tassel have become fertile and produced grains. Some seasons are more prolific in these changes than others. Illustrations in these seasons may often be seen,—at other seasons these abnormal results are rarely to be found. This would tend to show that the power underlying the whole is in some way or another connected with nutrition. We say as a general principle, that various phases of nutrition decide whether the flower should be barren or fertile, without being able to state exactly in what manner these phases of nutrition act.

Fig. 1   Sexual Flowers in Indian Corn. Fig. 2

Lorain: Maize (1816)
The ears of the Virginia gourdseed are not very long, neither is the cob so thick as that of the big white and yellow. But the formation of the grain makes the ear very thick. They frequently produce from thirty to thirty-two, and sometimes thirty-six rows of very long narrow grains of a soft open texture.
    None can be longer or more readily traced than the gourdseed. If the smallest perfectly natural indenture appear in the grain of the hardest corns, those grains, with their descendants, may be grown, until a perfectly white gourdseed is obtained, be their colour what it may.

Collins, G.N.: Structure of Maize ears (1919)

Anderson: Homologies of ear and tassel in Zea mays (1944)

San Carlos, CA, 19 Oct 2008
I think this was a gourdseed that went crazy in the short days.