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Varieties of Maize
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Zea
Zea diploperennis
Zea luxurians
Zea mays ssp. huehuetenangensis
Zea mays ssp. mays
Zea mays ssp. mexicana
Zea mays ssp. parviglumis
Zea nicaraguensis
Zea perennis
ITIS 42268 2002-09-22

Maize, or corn, is a staple food grain from Mesoamerica, species Zea mays ssp. mays. Maize is a direct domesticate of the teosinte Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, native to the Balsas River Valley of southern Mexico, with up to 12% of its genetic material obtained from Zea mays ssp. mexicana through introgression. The term teosinte describes all species in the genus Zea, excluding Zea mays ssp. mays. The proposed role of the related genus Tripsacum in the origins of maize has been widely refuted by modern genetic analysis.

There are regional variations in terminology. In North America, Zea mays ssp. mays is known as corn. In Australia, the term corn is often restricted to sweetcorn, with maize or field corn used for other varieties of Zea mays ssp. mays. In other English-speaking countries, the term corn is used in its older and more general sense to refer to all cereals, but sometimes especially to wheat.

As a food, maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) is used in various forms. One endosperm type, commonly known as sweetcorn, is particularly popular.

Maize can also be prepared as hominy; grits, made from hominy, are commonly eaten in U.S. Southern States. Another common food made from maize are corn flakes. The flour of maize is used to make cornbread and Mexican tortillas. Teosinte is used as fodder, and can also be popped like popcorn.

The following sections are adapted from the Household Cyclopedia of 1881:

Table of contents
1 Growing maize
2 Harvesting maize
3 Uses for maize

Growing maize

The land should be a loamy sand, very rich. In April the grains should be set like hops, at three to four feet distance, three to six grains in a hill, each grain about an inch deep in the ground. The seed from New England is the best. In May the alleys should be hoed and the hills weeded and earthed up higher; many good farmers plough three times after planting. At the latter end of that month all the superfluous stalks should be taken away, and only three stems of corn left in each hill. By the middle of June, it will cover the alley.

It grows much like bulrushes, the lower leaves being like broad flags, three or four inches wide, and as many feet in length; the stems shooting upwards, from seven to ten feet in height, with many joints, casting off flag-leaves at every joint. Under these leaves and close to the stem grows the corn, covered over by many coats of sedgy leaves, and so closed in by them to the stem, that it does not show itself easily till there bursts out at the end of the ear a number of strings that look like tufts of horsehair, at first of a beautiful green, and afterwards red or yellow, the stem ending in a flower.

Harvesting maize

The corn will ripen in October or early November; but the sun at that season not having strength enough to dry it, it must be laid upon racks or thin open floors in dry rooms, and frequently turned, to avoid moulding; the grains are about as big as peas, and adhere in regular rows round a white pithy substance, which forms the ear.

More varieties

An ear contains from two to four hundred grains, and is from six to ten inches in length. They are of various colors, blue, red, white and yellow. The manner of gathering them is by cutting down the stems and breaking off the ears. The stems are as big us a man's wrist, and look like bamboo cane; the pith is full of a juice that tastes as sweet as sugar, and the joints are about a foot and a half distant. The increase is upwards of five hundred fold.

Upon a large scale the seed may be drilled in alleys like peas, and to save digging, the ground may be ploughed and harrowed, which will answer very well. It will grow upon all kinds of land. The ears which grow upon dry sandy land are smaller, but harder and riper.

Uses for maize

The grain is taken from the husk by hand, and when ground upon stones, makes an excellent flour, of which it yields much more, with much less bran, than wheat does, and exceeds it in crust, pancakes, puddings, and all other uses except bread; but a sweetness peculiar to it, which in all other cases makes it agreeable, is here less so. It is excellent for feeding horses, poultry and hogs, and fattens them much better and sooner than peas or barley. The stems make better hedges for kitchen garden than reeds do. It clears the ground from weeds, and makes a good season for any other kind of grain. It was the only bread-grain known in America when first discovered by the Spaniardss, and is there called maize.

In 1940, Barbara McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovery of the first transposons in maize.