ear of corn
ANOTHER EAR APPEARS: This cornstalk’s main ear was removed on purpose early in the pollination process. Note that an ear emerged from the node below and made a reasonable-sized ear.

Corn proves unstoppable desire to reproduce

Corn Watch: If you remove an ear during pollination, the plant will make another one.

Dave Nanda talks a lot about how strong a corn plant’s desire is to reproduce. If you removed the main ear just before pollination, would the plant replace that ear? Is its desire to reproduce that strong? Nanda, an independent crops consultant, set up a simple demonstration in the Corn Watch ’17 field to show what would happen.

Corn Watch ’17 is sponsored by Seed Genetics-Direct, Washington Court House, Ohio.

Nanda has long held that a corn plant will do whatever it takes to produce as many viable kernels as possible. “The plant has only one purpose in life, and that is to produce babies,” he says. “It doesn’t care how much yield you get, and it doesn’t know that seed from hybrid corn won’t be planted again. Instead, it will adjust based on weather conditions and whatever else happens to it during the season to compensate and make as many viable kernels as possible.”

It’s the explanation for why ears abort tip kernels if dry weather sets in and the plant doesn’t think it can finish all of the kernels it has started. It’s also the reason why the plant will sacrifice stalk health if it’s dry late in the season and move those sugars into the ear to help finish filling kernels.

Simple demonstration
Sometime just before pollination began, Nanda marked a few ears in the Corn Watch ’17 field. He removed the main ear at the ear leaf. His theory was that the plant would then divert its attention to the shoot below what had been the main ear. Often, this ear may start to develop but rarely grows into much of an ear. The plant concentrates on the main ear and filling as many kernels on that ear as possible.

When Nanda returned before harvest, he had the proof he hoped to see. Plants where he had removed the main ear shoot developed an ear coming out of the node below the main ear leaf. The ears were actually decent in size — much bigger than you would expect for a second ear on a plant that still had the main ear intact, he notes.

TRIED ITS BEST: The plant made the best ear it could (on right), but Dave Nanda says the delay caused by removing the first ear and forcing the second ear to come out resulted in a somewhat smaller ear.

“By the time the new shoot silked, pollen may have been running short,” he observes. Pollination wasn’t perfect, and the ear wasn’t quite as big as a normal ear on a plant nearby. Moisture was also a bit higher because the kernels were still playing catch-up, just reaching maturity while kernels on other ears had already reached black layer.”

However, Nanda believes this demonstration proves his point. “The plant reacted to a giant trauma — loss of its ear — and produced an ear anyway. Kernels on that ear would be viable. Plants work as hard as possible to reproduce.”

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