Booming Native Plants
Painted Mountain Corn

Another look at Mandan maize
--Kutka, FJ; Christensen, D

The Mandan Indians brought maize to the Great Plains region at least 350 years ago (G. F. Will, Corn for the Northwest, Butler Publishing, 1930). Mandan maize ("MM") spread to the Rockies and into Canada, farther from the equator than maize had been grown. European settlers depended on it until the 1930's and said it rarely failed to produce a crop (G. F. Will, 1930; D. Christensen, Painted mountain: a new survival strain, Seed Savers Exchange, 1989). Reports cited by G. F. Will state that MM would germinate and grow at low temperatures (5-10 F as opposed to 12-15 F for dents), growing nearly anywhere across the plains. Because it also tolerates intense summer heat it may be more versatile than highland or lowland germplasm (H. R. Lafitte and G. O. Edmeades, Field Crops Research 49:231-247, 1997).

MM is shorter, with narrower stalks, lower ears and fewer roots than cornbelt dents. Ears are usually long and narrow for early dry-down to beat frosts. This form allows for early silking and a high harvest index, similar to the types in CIMMYT's drought program (G. O. Edmeades et al., in M. J. Kropff et al. (eds.), Applications of Systems Approaches at the Field Level, pp. 63-78, 1997). MM also tolerates drought. Normally plants grow to 1.8 m, ears are long (17-30 cm), and tillers with ears develop. In drought ears are short (10-13 cm), tillers rare, and plants short (1-1.2 m) (Will, 1930).

Over 26 years have been spent synthesizing and reselecting Mandan/Canadian Plains/Desert Highland varieties under the stress conditions of Montana to create the elite OP "Painted Mountain" (D. Christensen, 1989). "PM" silks in 43-47 days and ears range from 15-30 cm. At Big Timber, MT cornbelt dent makes ears 3 cm long whereas PM makes ears 15-20 cm long (Christensen, 1989). In an unreplicated trial in May 1997, we planted in cold soils (6 F, 5 cm deep, 20 seeds per variety). PM showed 30% emergence after four days of daytime solid temperatures above 10 F, 22 days after planting. This was equaled only by CIMMYT Pop. 900 (diverse tropical highland) and Mandan Blue flint, surpassing CMT 939011 (20%), CIMMYT Pop. 901 (10%) (both Mexican highland), and all eastern flints (0-5%) and corn belt OP's (5%) which we tried. PM, like most MM landraces, is of a hand harvest type at this point, but greatly improved.

Mandan germplasm has also been used in breeding programs by states and provinces of the Great Plains (M. McDonald, Lethbridge, Alberta, Pers. Comm.). It represents a drought tolerant, flexible, and very productive source of earliness and cold tolerance. This germplasm deserves wider consideration; to that end Painted Mountain will be tested in Nicaragua, Peru, and Bolivia in 1998. Other stress test locations are requested.

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

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