June 30, 2002

A-maize-ing


I have been out in the corn patch this afternoon, imagining pulling those first full ears off the stalk in about a month. The first planting (a block of only about 10 x 20') is about waist high, dark green, and healthy...mostly. Largest of the grasses, corn is a garden marvel.

Somewhere, invisible down in axils of the sheathed leaves, are the buds of little embyonic ears of corn...the nursery where what we eat and enjoy will be 'born'. If our corn ears were born in their current state, they would be totally without kernels, and not 'corn'. A corn abortion.

Here's the birds-and-bees story of corn that I pondered as I pulled the purslane out of the corn this evening:

What has to happen in our corn patch in the coming weeks is that each little incipient corn kernel (the 'ovary') will start growing a long tube that will eventually lead the guy corn sperm to the female egg in the ovary. This tube is the corn 'silk' that forms the collective 'tassel'.

Completely free of perfumery, eye makeup, or female seduction, the egg housed in the potential kernel has only to wait on the vagaries of nature (wind, water, and heat) to receive a mindless mote of pollen from the male part of the plant...the part the sticks up on the very top of the plant, up where the wind is best able to send it floating below where the girl corn parts hang out.

When the microscopic wind-blown pollen finds a sticky corn silk tip, there is the chemistry of recognition and the pollen sperm begins to migrate its way down into the cornsilk tissue. It travels slowly, traversing the entire distance of the silk that may be 12 inches long! When it enters the embryo where the egg is housed, a baby kernel is formed. It begins to make its own food (the starch, or hopefully sugar that we prize as food in the corn), and grows until it is a full, rounded, delicious kernel of corn.

Not every silk meets up with a pollen/sperm speck, and some silks are eaten by worms or bettles. Boo! Those kernels will be empty when you peel back those shucks expectantly in August. The amazing thing is that most of the kernels are sucessfully impregnated to form those many dozens of plump white or yellow niblets that are so wonderfully sweet, and taste like summer itself.

Each vegetable has its own story. Helps me to give thanks all the more for the amazing nature of Nature that blesses us with summer's abundance. And makes me glad my children were raised in the country, where they could watch and help with the gardening. Lots of good life lessons out in the bean rows, folks.

Posted by fred1st at June 30, 2002 07:22 PM
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