The Q&A Archives: Type of plant

Question: Along with the regular sweet corn we planted this year an unusual
plant came up in the row. It has the leaves like the corn plant but
in the center of the top is a floral bunch of growth, almost like
early growing broccli. Are there other varities of sweetcorn?

Answer: What you describe is a rarity and is called "tassel-ear". A corn plant exhibits both male flowers and female flowers (a flowering habit called "monoecious" for you trivia fans.) Interestingly, both flowers are initially bisexual (aka "perfect"), but during the course of development the female components (gynoecia) of the male flowers and the male components (stamens) of the female flowers abort, resulting in tassel (male) and ear (female) development. Once in a while, the upper flower that typically becomes a tassel instead forms a combination of male and female floral parts on the same reproductive structure. This "tassel-ear" is an odd-looking affair and is found most commonly on tillers or "suckers" of a corn plant along the edges of a field. Without a protective husk covering, the kernels that develop on tassel-ears are at the mercy of weathering and exposed to hungry birds. It makes a good conversation piece, but that's about all.

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