DESCRIPTION: The individual maize grain is botanically a caryopsis, a dry fruit containing a single seed fused to the inner tissues of the fruit case. The seed contains two sister structures, a germ from which a new plant will develop, and an endosperm which will provide nutrients for that germinating seedling until the seedling establishes sufficient leaf area to become autotrophic.
Maize is a tall, determinate annual plant producing large, narrow, opposing leaves (about a tenth as wide as they are long), borne alternately along the length of a solid stem. Aside from its size, a distinguishing feature of this grass is the separation of the sexes among its flowering structures. Unlike other grasses, which produce perfect (bisexual) flowers, maize produces male inflorescences (tassels) which crown the plant at the stem apex, and female inflorescences (ears) which are borne at the apex of condensed lateral branches protruding from leaf axils. Each of the female spikelets encloses two fertile florets, one of whose ovaries will mature into a maize kernel once sexually fertilized by wind-blown pollen.

Native uses: Cultivation of maize and the elaboration of its food products are inextricably bound with the rise of pre-Colombian Mesoamerican civilizations. Maize was developed from a wild grass (Teosinte) originally growing in Central America (southern Mexico) 7,000 years ago. The ancestral kernels of Teosinte looked very different from today's corn. These kernels were small and were not fused together like the kernels on the husked ear of early maize and modern corn. Many Native American traditions, stories and ceremonies surround corn, one of the "three sisters" (maize, beans and squash).Maize was used for food, medicine, drink and other purposes. Maize is currently produced in most countries of the world and is the third most planted field crop (after wheat and rice).


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Native and Essay by Ricardo J. Salvador (Encyclopedia of Mexico).

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This page was authored by Laura Leff