The New International Encyclopædia/Maize

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MAIZE (Sp. maíz, from Haytian mahiz, mahis, the native name), or Indian Corn (Zea Mays). An annual grass with erect stems and spreading leaves; male or staminate flowers borne upon the summit of the stem, which is commonly designated the tassel; and the female flowers upon the ear, which rises from the axils of the leaves. The protruding styles of the female flowers are called the silk, and the united pistillate spikes the cob. Fertilization of the pistillate flowers is accomplished by the wind or other agencies, which carry pollen from the staminate flowers to the silk. The botanical relationship of maize is shown in the discussion of grasses. Its nearest relative is probably the Mexican teosinte (Euchlæna luxurians), a plant of the same general habit of growth. Experiments conducted by Harshberger and others have seemed to show that the wild form (which is unknown), or the plant from which maize was derived, is the teosinte. Maize differs from most grasses in having solid instead of hollow stems. Adventitious roots are often developed from the nodes near the ground which serve to brace the plant against winds. The plant varies in height from less than two feet in dwarf varieties to more than thirty feet, reported for some forms in the West Indies. Specimens more than twenty feet tall are not infrequent in the rich river valleys in the United States. The size of the ear and size, color, and hardness of the grain show marked variation. Ears vary in length from an inch in varieties of popcorn to fifteen inches or more in the dent varieties. White, black, yellow, and red, with numerous variants, are the colors of the grain. In some the grain is no lorger than rice grains; in a South American variety, cuzco, the individual grains often weigh thirty-five times as much as the small popcorn grains. All degrees of hardness are shown, ranging from the flint varieties (so called from their extreme hardness) to the squaw corn and flour corn, the grains of which are so starchy and soft as to be readily broken between the fingers. The season required for nurturing varies from one month in a Paraguayan variety to seven months in others. Maize shows a remarkable tendency to ‘mix,’ as the blending of varieties is called, the pollen of one variety showing its effect upon the grain of another. This may be seen in the common occurrence of variegated grains and in the deterioration of sweet corn and popcorn when planted near field varieties. Abnormal forms are of frequent occurrence, as cobs with staminate flowers upon their extremities, small ears borne toward the bases of tassels, branched and flattened ears, etc.

Although the widespread cultivation of maize has given rise to very many varieties commonly grouped according to certain characters of the grain, most botanists recognize only a single species, Zea Mays, of very variable habit. Sturtevant, however, has given to the different groups the following specific names: Zea tunicata, pod corns; Zea everta, pop corns; Zea indurata, flint corns; Zea inrentata, dent corns; Zea amylacea, soft corns; Zea saccharata, sweet corns; and Zea amyleasaccharata, starchy sweet corns. The first group, Zea tunicata, or podded corn, which has a pod or husk for each kernel in addition to the enveloping ear leaves, is considered to be the original form of corn; Zea everta, or popcorn, its nearest relative; and Zea amylacea, or soft corn, the highest developed form. Millo maize, Jerusalem corn, Kafir corn, Egyptian corn, etc., are not varieties of Zea Mays, but of Andropogon, and are known as non-saccharine sorghums.

Corn is generally thought to be a native of America, probably grown in a wild state on the plateaus of tropical America. All evidence points to its cultivation by the native tribes long before the discovery of the country by Columbus, who is said to have carried the first grains of corn to Europe on his first return voyage. Its cultivation in Europe spread very slowly. Although introduced into Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, it did not reach France until a hundred years later. Historical data concerning its distribution in Europe are conflicting in many instances, but modern agricultural writers, summing up the evidence at hand, believe it was introduced into France and Italy from Spain, into Switzerland and Hungary from Italy, into Austria and Southeastern Europe from Hungary, and from Switzerland into the valley of the Rhine. It is said to have been carried to Asia and Africa from Portugal. The distribution of maize on the American continents has been coincident with the progress of the white race in the New World. The limits of the distribution of corn culture are given by De Candolle as 40° S. latitude in South America, 54° N. latitude in North America, and 50° N. latitude in Europe. The popcorn (see below), flint corn, dent corn, and sweet corn groups are represented in the United States by many varieties, the dent corn representing the bulk of the corn produced. In Europe the flint corns are more widely distributed than any other group. Flint corn in numerous varieties has a large, hard kernel, either white, yellow, orange, red, blue, striped, or blazed. The ears are usually from six to twelve inches long and the plants commonly grow from four to eight feet high. Dent corn is characterized by the indentation at the top of the kernel caused by the drying and shrinking of the starchy matter within. The outer portion of the kernel is corneous as in the pop and flint corns, but the proportion of starch is greater in this group than in either of the other two. The length of the ear usually varies from six to twelve inches and the height of the plant ordinarily from six to ten feet. Most varieties have white or yellow kernels, but various other colors are represented among the many different sorts. The varieties of dent corn exceed in number those of all the other groups combined.

Corn is a universal crop in the United States and is grown on many different kinds of soil, but for its best growth, a well drained, rich, sandy loam, which does not bake during drought, is required. In preparing the soil for corn it is plowed deeper than for any other cereal crop, the object being to obtain a deep and well pulverized seed-bed. In the northern portion of the Mississippi Valley, where the bulk of the world's corn crop is produced and where it matures in about five months, it is planted from about May 1st to the 20th. In other latitudes planting is done late enough to escape late spring frosts. It is most commonly sown in hills or in drills by means of a corn-planter, but it is sometimes also sown broadcast. The hills are about three and one-half feet apart each way, and three or four stalks are produced per hill; but when planted in drills single plants are grown about one foot apart in the row. From the time of planting until the young plants appear above ground the soil is harrowed for the purpose of keeping the surface in a pulverized condition and preventing the growth of weeds. The plants are cultivated with the horse hoe or corn cultivator after they have attained sufficient height and until they are too large to admit of further cultivation without injury to the plants. In the principal corn-producing States of the United States cultivation usually commences about the first of June, and lasts for about six weeks. Where corn is grown in hills, or checks, the direction of each cultivation is given at right angles to the preceding direction, so that the whole of the surface soil may be stirred. Planted in drills it can be cultivated in one direction only.

The practice of listing corn consists in making alternate ridges and furrows and drilling the corn into the furrows instead of plowing the land. This is done by means of the lister, an implement which ridges the soil and drills the corn at the same time. In cultivating listed corn the soil is thrown from the ridges toward the growing plants, so that by the time cultivation is finished the surface of the land has become level. The practice of listing is not general.

The time of harvesting depends somewhat on the use to be made of the crop. When grown for fodder corn is cut when the kernels begin to glaze and the lower leaves begin to dry. The cut stalks are put up in shocks and left to cure in the field. When dry the ears are removed and the stalks (fodder or stover) are used directly for feeding purposes or shredded and then fed. Shredding consists in passing the stalks and leaves through a machine which cuts and tears them into fine pieces. A machine known as the shredder and busker removes the ears and shreds the stalks and leaves. Corn grown for the grain is harvested when it is fully ripe and dry. The ears are gathered, husked, and stored in slat cribs, through which the air passes freely, thus drying the corn and preventing attacks of mold. This method of harvesting corn is known as husking, picking, or shucking, the first being perhaps the most common. The term ‘snapping’ corn refers to gathering the ears with most of the husks attached, which is sometimes done when ripe corn is fed directly from the field. Before it is fed or sold corn is usually shelled by passing the huskless ears through hand, horse, or steam power corn-shellers.

The most common disease to which corn is subject is smut (q.v.), against which methods of prevention are not well understood. Rust does no material injury to corn. The bacterial disease of corn sometimes does considerable damage. The principal insect enemy is the cutworm, which destroys the young plants. Extensive injury is frequently done by ground squirrels, which feed on the planted seed. These animals are usually poisoned about planting time with poisoned corn and pumpkin seeds.

The maize crop of the world is estimated at from 2500 to 3000 million bushels annually. The annual corn production of the United States amounts to about 2000 million bushels. The great corn-producing States are Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Indiana. In 1890 these States produced 1,256,162,321 bushels, or nearly three-fifths of the entire crop of the United States. About fifty bushels per acre is considered a good yield, but the average yield per acre for the whole United States is only about twenty-five bushels. The largest yield of corn on record, 237 bushels per acre, was produced in South Carolina.

NIE 1905 Maize.jpg

Corn is utilized in the preparation of more than one hundred different articles. Its chief value is as food for man and domestic animals. For feeding purposes the entire plant is used either as it comes from the field or prepared in various ways to make it more palatable and to minimize the amount of waste in feeding (see below). The husks are used in making mattresses, especially in the corn-growing regions. The outer portion of the stalk is used in paper manufacture, and the pith is employed in making pyroxylin varnishes, guncotton, and other high explosives. Owing to its great resilience, porosity, and absorptive power, the pith is also used in the construction of war vessels, compressed blocks of it being packed behind the outer armor plate to absorb the water and close the aperture in case the plate is pierced by a projectile. The cobs are often ground up for feed, but they are generally used for fuel and are also employed to a considerable extent in the manufacture of tobacco pipes. The principal and most common product of the grain is the flour, or cornmeal, which is either white or yellow, according to the variety of corn from which it is made. Nearly all the starch and large quantities of glucose, whisky, and alcohol manufactured in the United States are made from corn. In connection with the manufacture of these various substances a number of by-products are obtained which are generally used for feeding purposes. (See Gluten Meal and Gluten Feed). Maize or corn oil is obtained from the germ which is extracted from the kernel in the manufacture of starch, glucose (q.v.), and some kinds of meal. The oil expressed from the germ is a light, clear, amber-colored fluid, which may be used for culinary, mechanical, and lighting purposes. It is used to some extent in the manufacture of soap and of a substitute for rubber.

Sweet Corn or Sugar Corn (Zea saccharata), generally considered a garden vegetable, is extensively grown in home gardens and for marketing and canning. As a vegetable it is used while the kernels are plump and well filled out but still containing milky juice. The ripened kernels have a wrinkled appearance. Sweet corn is adapted to any soil suitable for field corn, though more attention is given to manuring. A warm, rich, sandy loam is considered most desirable. On the northern limits of the corn belt sweet corn is grown as a field crop because of its rapid growing and early maturing habits. Some of the smaller and earlier sorts develop in seventy days; the later varieties require 90 to 100 days. The amount grown for canning purposes in 1898 has been given at 4,398,563 cases, each containing two dozen two-pound cans. Corn for canning is grown mostly in New York, Maine, Illinois, and Iowa.

Popcorn (Zea everta) is characterized by small ears, scarcely exceeding six inches in length and 1½ inches in diameter, small kernels, and an excessive portion of hard, flinty endosperm in the seed. This latter is supposed to give the property of popping, which is the complete turning inside out of the kernel on the application of heat. Through popping the kernels become very much enlarged, so that a pint of kernels before popping makes six to eight quarts after popping. The popped kernels are pure white and are eaten out of hand or mixed with syrup and pressed into balls or cakes to be eaten like confectionery. Popcorn requires about the same soil and treatment as field corn.

Feeding Value and Uses of Maize as Food. Corn is of the greatest importance and is extensively used in the feeding of farm animals because of the variety and cheapness of feeding stuffs which it furnishes. The uncured plant in different stages of maturity is used as forage; corn shives (i.e. the stalks from which the pith has been removed) have recently been used to some extent; the ripened grain, whole or ground, is fed to all classes of farm animals, often on the cob and often ground with the cob as ‘corn and cob meal;’ various byproducts from the manufacture of starch, glucose, corn ‘breakfast foods,’ etc., are also largely employed. As a food for man, corn is used cracked or crushed as hominy, and finely ground, both bolted and unbolted, as meal. From white corn flour is made by grinding the grain after the removal of the germ and some of the outer envelope.

The composition of these materials and some others mentioned later is shown in the table on the following page.

Like all green crops, corn fodder has a high water content. It owes its nutritive value principally to the carbohydrates which it contains. It is also useful as a feeding stuff, because it is succulent, gives necessary bulk to a ration, and is relished by animals. Dried corn fodder and stover are similar in composition to hay, and are very valuable feeding stuffs, but unless cut fine or shredded and otherwise properly handled, a considerable portion may be wasted when fed. It often lacks flavor, and since it is chiefly a carbohydrate food, a one-sided ration, it should be fed with material rich in protein (i.e. concentrated feeds). Its palatability may be increased by moistening with water and sprinkling with bran and steaming. The best results are said to be obtained when only about one-third of the coarse fodder consists of stover. According to reports of the United States Department of Agriculture, the corn stover crop of the United States in 1897 was nearly 80,000,000 tons, much larger than the hay crop.

Corn silage, which resembles the green crop in composition, is wholesome and is relished by farm animals. The grain is especially rich in carbohydrates, principally starch, but contains considerable protein and some fat. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no marked difference in the composition and feeding value of white and yellow corn, or dent and flint corn. Individual specimens of either sort vary more widely than do the averages for the different groups. Corn is used in rations for maintenance, for the production of milk, for fattening, and for feeding draught animals. It is a universal feed for pigs in the United States, a bushel being considered sufficient when fed alone to produce on an average eleven pounds of pork. It is also widely used in fattening steers, beef cattle, and poultry, and is very satisfactory for the grain portion of a ration for horses, cows, and sheep. The commercial by-products like gluten meal are rich in protein and are valuable feeding stuffs. Corn cobs possess considerable nutritive value, and when ground with the kernel the resulting meal is highly valued. Corn products compare favorably as regards digestibility with other similar feeding stuffs. The coefficients of digestibility of a number of them follow:

Average Coefficients of Digestibility of a Number of Corn Products

Protein Fat  Nitrogen-free 

   Per cent.   Per cent.   Per cent.  Per cent.  Per cent.   Per cent. 
Corn fodder (green)  67.8 59.7 74.1 73.7 60.2 35.6
Corn silage 70.8 56.0 82.4 76.1 70.0 30.3
Corn stover 57.2 35.9 70.4 57.9 64.2 32.6
Ground corn shives  58.1 46.7 78.2 60.5 57.0 38.7
Cornmeal 89.4 67.9 92.1 94.6 ...... ......
Corn-and-cob meal  78.7 55.6 84.1 87.6 45.7 ......
Corn cob 51.4 19.3 ...... 48.3 57.5 ......
Gluten feed 86.3 85.6 84.4 89.2 78.0 ......

Corn ranks high in comparison with other cereal grains as a food for man. Large quantities are eaten in the United States, in Southern and Eastern Europe, and in the Orient, but it is little known in Northern Europe. Cornmeal, made into corn bread, mush, and many other foods, is wholesome and nutritious. It cannot be leavened with yeast like wheat flour in bread-making, as the corn does not possess gluten, and the proteids of the maize kernel have other properties than those which characterize gluten. Large quantities of corn are consumed in the form of hominy and other breakfast foods. So far as experiments show, corn is well assimilated by man, and, judged by composition, digestibility, palatability, and wholesomeness, is worthy of the high opinion in which it is held.

Average Composition of a Number of Corn Products

Water Protein Fat  Nitrogen-free 

   Per cent.   Per cent.   Per cent.  Per cent.  Per cent.   Per cent. 
Corn fodder (green) 79.3  1.8 0.5 12.2  5.0 1.2
Corn fodder (cured) 42.2  4.5 1.6 34.7  14.3  2.7
Corn stover 40.5  3.8 1.1 31.5  19.7  3.4
Corn silage 79.1  1.7 0.8 11.0  6.0 1.4
Corn shives [1]9.2  6.4 2.8 48.9  28.7  4.0
Corn kernel, Dent 10.6  10.3  5.0 70.4  2.2 1.5
Corn kernel, Flint 11.3  10.5  5.0 70.1  1.7 1.4
Sweet-corn kernel 8.8 11.6  8.1 66.8  2.8 1.9
Popcorn kernel (raw) 10.8  11.2  5.2 69.6  1.8 1.4
Popcorn kernel (popped)  4.3 10.7  5.0 77.3  1.4 1.3
Corn-and-cob meal 15.1  8.5 3.5 64.8  6.6 1.5
Hominy chop 11.1  9.8 8.3 64.5  3.8 2.5
Corn germ 10.7  9.8 7.4 64.0  4.1 4.0
Gluten meal 8.6 30.0  8.8 49.2  2.6 0.8
Starch feed (wet) 65.4  6.1 3.1 22.0  3.1 0.3
Corn cob 10.7  2.4 0.5 54.9  30.1  1.4
Corn flour 12.6  7.1 1.3 77.5  0.9 0.6
Cornmeal, granular 12.5  9.2 1.9 74.4  1.0 1.0
Cornmeal, unbolted 11.6  8.4 4.7 73.0  1.0 1.3
Hominy 11.8  8.3 0.6 78.1  0.9 0.3
Sweet corn (green) 75.4  3.1 1.1 19.2  0.5 0.7
Corn starch ...... ...... ...... 90.0     

Green sweet corn, either fresh, canned, evaporated, or dried, commonly eaten as a vegetable in the United States, resembles other succulent vegetables in composition, being rich in carbohydrates. Popcorn, also widely used, closely resembles other varieties in composition, but after popping differs in composition from the raw chiefly in having a low water content. Corn starch and corn oil, manufactured products, are used in cookery, the former extensively.

In Italy a disease (pellagra) is attributed to the use of corn, which investigation seems to show is due to molding or spoiling of the grain. In the United States, where corn is most eaten, its wholesomeness is no more questioned than that of wheat, since, generally speaking, no evil results have attended its use.

For further details of corn culture, consult: Morrow and Hunt, Soils and Crops of the Farm (Chicago, 1892); Corn Culture in the South, Farmer's Bulletin 81, United States Department of Agriculture (Washington, 1898); for classification: Bulletin 57, Office of Experiment Stations (Washington, 1899); for composition of various parts of corn plant: Bulletin 50, Division of Chemistry (Washington, 1898); for feeding value: Henry, Feeds and Feeding (Madison, Wis., 1898); and Bulletin 15 of Office of Experiment Stations. See Colored Plate of Cereals for illustration of Zea Mays.

  1. Dried artificially.