A pristine background as a new direction for maize improvement

--Walton C. Galinat

The process of selection for an increased energy sink in the maize ear started during its origin with the maize-ear key traits taken from within teosinte. The concentration of energy into fewer larger ears, then as now, was from a redistribution of energy at the expense of the number of ears. The hundreds of tiny impoverished ears of teosinte borne in clusters (fascicles) at every leaf were reduced to solitary ears at most leaves in maize and then as the size of the kernels, ears and cobs continued to increase over the millenia, the number of ears per plant continued to be reduced. The most advanced breeds of modern maize would have only one giant ear were it not for the inadequate husk-coverage possible for such giant ears. The result has been the investment of energy in two or more smaller cobs with better husk protection. But even more important, the smaller, thinner cobs have an advantage in Canada, the northern United States and northern Europe, where there is a wet fall harvest season. The advantage is that because thin cobs dry down more rapidly, they are less inclined to become moldy. The preference for growing small grains instead of corn in these wet fall areas may be more than just eating customs and agricultural traditions. The small grain preference may be just the impractical nature of the thick moldy cobs of the corn types that we offer them. Yes, corn is good as silage in their area but as a feed grain plant, forget it. They know from sad experience.

Please Note: Notes submitted to the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter may be cited only with consent of the authors

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