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 Tech.com and Essay by Ricardo J. Salvador (Encyclopedia
Copyright 2003 Northern Arizona University.
page was authored by Laura Leff