Definitions

corn

corn

[kawrn]
corn, in botany. The name corn is given to the leading cereal crop of any major region. In England corn means wheat; in Scotland and Ireland, oats. The grain called corn in the United States is Indian corn or maize (Zea mays). The part of the United States where most of the corn is grown, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska, is known as the Corn Belt.

The Corn Plant

The corn plant has a pithy noded stalk supported by prop roots. The staminate (male) flowers form the tassel at the top of the plant. The pistillate (female) flowers are the kernels on the cob, which is enclosed by a leafy husk beyond which extend threadlike styles and stigmas (the silk), which catch the pollen. The corn plant with its ornamental tassel and ears has been a motif of American art since prehistoric times.

The plant is a grass that was domesticated and cultivated in the Americas long before Europeans reached the New World. It is so changed from the ancestral wild grass that its original form has not been identified with certainty, and it has been so adapted to cultivation that it cannot sustain itself without human cultivation. It is probably a complex hybrid of several related New World grasses, e.g., teosinte (Euchlaena mexicana), a tropical American fodder plant in which the seeds are not united in a cob. The Native Americans had many varieties of corn, e.g., sweet corn, popcorn, and corn for corn meal. White, yellow, red, and blue corn were grown as distinct strains.

Development of Hybrids

The easily produced and readily identifiable strains of corn made it a favorite subject for experimental genetics. The development of hybrid corn seed was an early (beginning of the 20th cent.) and revolutionary introduction of the principles of theoretical science into practical agriculture. At first ridiculed, the scientifically developed hybrids came to represent most commercially grown corn types. They resulted in higher yields, increased sugar and lowered starch content, and uniform plants bred to specification for mechanical harvesting. Most recently, genetic engineering has produced corn with added sweetness, disease resistance, and other desired traits.

Uses

As human food, corn is eaten fresh or ground for meal. It is the basic starch plant of Central and Andean South America, where it is still hand ground on metates to be made into tamales, tortillas, and other staple dishes. In the S United States it is familiar as hominy, mush, and grits. Starch, sugar, and oil are also extracted for many products, but the chief use of corn is as animal fodder. It is the primary feed grain of the United States, and in Europe this is almost the only use of corn. Corn is also as a raw material in the manufacture of ethanol for fuel.

Bibliography

See P. C. Mangelsdorf, Corn (1974); J. C. Hudson, Making the Corn Belt (1994).

Cereal grain plant of the family Poaceae (or Gramineae), probably native to Africa, and its edible starchy seeds. All types raised chiefly for grain belong to the species Sorghum vulgare, which includes varieties of grain sorghums and grass sorghums (grown for hay and fodder), and broomcorn (used in making brooms and brushes). The strong grass usually grows 2–8 ft (0.5–2.5 m) or higher. The seeds are smaller than those of wheat. Though high in carbohydrates, sorghum is of lower feed quality than corn. Resistant to drought and heat, sorghum is one of Africa's major cereal grains. It is also grown in the U.S., India, Pakistan, and northern and northeastern China. Substantial quantities are also grown in Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Argentina, Australia, and southern Europe. The grain is usually ground into meal for porridge, flatbreads, and cakes.

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Sweet syrup produced by breaking down (hydrolyzing) cornstarch (a product of corn). Corn syrup contains dextrins, maltose, and dextrose and is used in baked goods, jelly and jam, and candy. High-fructose corn syrup is widely used in the manufacture of soft drinks and other foods because it is considerably cheaper than sucrose.

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or cotton bollworm or tomato fruitworm

Moth larva (Heliothis zea, family Noctuidae) that damages corn, tomato, cotton, and other seasonal crops. The smooth, fleshy, green or brown caterpillars feed on corn kernels near the tip of the ear and burrow into tomatoes and cotton bolls. Four or five generations of the pale brown adult moths, with wingspans of 1.3 in. (3.5 cm), are produced annually.

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or maize

Cereal plant (Zea mays) of the family Poaceae (or Gramineae). It originated in the New World and has been introduced globally. American Indians taught colonists to grow corn, including some varieties of yellow corn that are still popular as food, as well as varieties with red, blue, pink, and black kernels, often banded, spotted, or striped, that today are regarded as ornamental and in the U.S. are called Indian corn. The tall, annual grass has a stout, erect, solid stem and large narrow leaves with wavy margins. Corn is used as livestock feed, as human food, and as raw material in industry. Though it is a major food in many parts of the world, it is inferior to other cereals in nutritional value. Inedible parts of the plant are used in industry—stalks for paper and wallboard; husks for filling material; cobs for fuel, to make charcoal, and in the preparation of industrial solvents. Corn husks also have a long history of use in the folk arts for objects such as woven amulets and corn-husk dolls. Corn is one of the most widely distributed of the world's food plants. In the U.S. corn is the most important crop, but slightly more acres of soybeans are planted.

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Traditional area, midwestern U.S. Roughly covering western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, southern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas, it is a region in which corn and soybeans are the dominant crops. Many farms are family-operated and average more than 300 acres (120 hectares). Despite the name, the region is agriculturally diverse, raising various feed-grains and livestock.

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