A Short History of Corn

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The cultivation of corn (maize) (Zea mays ssp. mays) began over 8,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, a geographical area which includes central and southern Mexico, and Central America. Corn was first domesticated from teosinte (Zea mexicana), an annual grass native to this region. Wild teosinte mostly has value as a fodder plant, as it provides very little edible seeds.

The first archaeological evidence of domesticated corn comes from the San Marcos cave in Tehuacan and the Guilá Naquitz cave in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The corn in San Marcos cave is dated to over 5,000 years ago. The cobs from the Guilá Naquitz cave were dated to over 6200 years old.

Researches believe that humans first domesticated corn by selecting the teosinte plants that had the largest amount of edible seeds until they eventually provided a substantial food source. This method probably took several generations to produce the corn we see today. In the process, humans have transformed corn into a plant that can no longer self-sow. Modern corn requires someone to break the hard, tightly bound cob and plant the seeds. Wild teosinte, however, is very fragile and the seeds easily fall off and grow new plants. Interestingly, without human interaction, modern corn would probably cease to exist.

Home gardeners who want to grow corn may choose from several different varieties including popcorn, dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, and sweet corn. Here we’ll focus on growing sweet corn as it is the most popular for the home gardener.

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