7 Types Of Maize Plants - Urban Agriculture

7 Types Of Maize Plants

7 Types of Maize Plants

Do you want to grow maize but you are not sure which variety of maize to plant? Maize, also better known in the English-speaking world as corn, is widely produced in the United States, and many farmers have developed their own varieties over the years.

Each type of corn comes with its own benefits. We take a look at the seventypes of maize and its variations.

The 7 Types Of Corn Plants

While we corn growing almost everywhere today, this valuable food source originated in Mexico around 10,000 years ago.

Then it was essentially a single-stalked, grassy plant named teosinte, meaning “grain of the gods.” This proto-maize had ‘ears’ only 2 to 3 inches long with up to 12 kernels which is much smaller compared to our modern corn with 12-inch ears containing over 500 kernels.

Already early Mexican farmers bred maize to increase its grain quality and yield.

Today, there are at least seven varieties or classifications of corn. Some of them can also fall under other classifications although they share the same characteristics.

7 Types of Maize Plants

Dent Corn

Dent corn, usually called field corn or yellow dent, is named after the dent formation at the top of the corn kernel when it dries out.

Field corn can be eaten but it’s low in sugar and high in starch so no matter how much butter or sugar you would spread on a freshly-picked dent corn cob, it wouldn’t be very tasty.

However, we do regularly consume dent corn in large amounts, just not in its unprocessed form. Dent corn is used to make food products, such as corn chips or corn flakes.

There are also different industrial applications where field corn is used. The most popular use of the white or yellow kernels of yellow dent is in animal feed where it’s 95% of the grains.

7 Types of Maize Plants

Gourdseed Corn

Gourdseed corn is one of the oldest corns grown in America. Commonly planted in southern Virginia, these heavily-stalked plants originated from Indian gourdseed corn dating all the way back to 1700.

It was then used mainly as animal feed or flour. Gourdseed corn was one of the most widely grown corn varieties in the US until hybrid corn varieties became popular.

This type of maize was nearly extinct but has gained more attention recently as it has some valuable resistance to common corn diseases, such as southern leaf blight.  

7 Types of Maize Plants

Flint Corn

Flint corn has a long tradition. It’s also called Indian corn and has been cultivated long before the Native Americans.

The kernel’s extra-hard out shells resemble flint hardness, giving flint corn its name. Today it is mainly grown in Central and South America.

Indian corn cobs can come in a great range of colors where each kernel has different pigmentations. This doesn’t impact its use though, as flint corn is also commonly used as animal feed.

7 Types of Maize Plants

Popcorn

Essentially another type of flint corn, popcorn is the most popular way of eating corn as a snack. Corn kernels have a hard outer shell that keeps a soft starchy inside.

When the kernels are heated, the outer shell turns moisture into steam that wants to expand, creating pressure that makes the corn ‘pop’.

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Flour Corn

Just as it name suggests, with its starchy, soft shell kernels flour corn is the ideal choice for making corn flour. Each corn kernel is filled with soft starch that makes it very easy to grind.

While the majority of flour corn is white, you can also grow this particular maize in other colors, such as blue.

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Sweet Corn

Unlike the other maize varieties that are harvested in their mature stage, sweet corn is commonly picked during the milk stage. At this time the plant’s ‘ears’ have not yet dried and matured.

Seldom used for livestock feed, sweet corn is the best-known maize type for eating. You can have sweet corn on the cob, or freeze it. 

Thanks to its high sugar content, this excellent edible maize has been a very popular choice for farmers and food development programs. This has led to more seedling types of sweet corn:

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Standard (SU) Corn Seeds

These corn seeds produce the oldest type of sweet corn containing a lot less starch and more sugar than field corn.

Just like with any sweet corn variety, SU sweet corn should be harvested and consumed before the plant turns sugar into starch after its peak maturity.

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Sugary Extender (SE) Seeds

These seeds produce an extra-large amount of sugar and it retains this sweetness even after three days since its harvest (though it does need to be refrigerated).

The multi-colored SE corn variety is at its sweetest when the pigmentation on the kernels intensifies.

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Supersweet (SH2) Corn

SH2 is a reference to the shrunken, shriveled appearance because of its low starch content. However, the kernels of SH2 corn is up to 10 times sweeter than SU corn because it contains a significantly greater amount of sugar. With the right handling and refrigerating you can also store this supersweet corn for much longer, up to 10 days.

Synergistic (SY)

The Synergistic corn variety is basically a combination of SU, SE, and SH2 corns in different amounts. These variations are different development from farmers who want to retain the sweetness of the corn while also resilient plants that yield much larger crops

Augmented Supersweet

Augmented supersweet corns blend the genes of SE and SU varieties, together with SH2. These crops can carry traits either from SE or SU corn but the overall characteristics are that of the sweetest corn variety SH2. The kernels of the augmented super sweet corns are tender and firm, so they don’t require mechanical harvesting.

The 7 Types of Corn Plants

Pod Corn

Pod corn is the only corn variety that’s naturally evolved. It is a mutation of existing maize varieties. That’s why, it has small leaves around each kernel making it almost impossible to process and prepare for corn applications.

While some regions protect this type of corn, farmers don’t grow it commercially as it’s difficult to process and has a low yield.

What Is The Most Popular And Best Type Of Corn?

The best-known corn varieties belong to the standard and the supersweet types. These varieties offer a high yield, together with tender yellow kernels and a sweet taste. Ideal for food consumption.

The best type of maize depends on your final use. If you want to grow corn at home to eat, then you should grow sweet corn. Ensure that you harvest sweet corn before it matures so that you get the sweetest corn cobs.

If you prefer popcorn, you can also grow this in your garden or backyard. Just pick flint corn seeds that will produce the starchy corn kernels with a hard outer shell needed to create the ‘pop’

For farmers who are looking to feed livestock, you can also create an effective animal feed with dent corn.

Whether you are a home gardener or a farmer, if you are looking to grow maize, you will be faced with the question of whether you want to grow an open-pollinated or hybrid sweet corn? The answer to this will depend on what you are looking to use the corn for.

Open-pollinated corn is not as uniform in size and maturity as most hybrid corns. This can be a great advantage for the home gardener as it gives you an extended harvest period where you don’t have to harvest all at once.

In comparison, hybrid corn varieties mature all at once, which in turn can be an advantage for farmers. 

The standard, open-pollinated sweet corn is still favored by most gardeners because of its true corn flavor.

What is the sweetest corn variety?

The sweetest corn variety you can find in the US is the supersweet SH2 variety. It is usually labeled as SH2 or supersweet on the seed packaging.

Why Should We Grow More Corn?

Different types of maize and corn are the ideal food source for humans and animals. With its combination of starch and sugar, corn can also offer other uses.

The Majority Of Corn Is Not Used For Food

The greatest amount of corn produced by farmers in the USA is used for animal feed. The rest is converted to ethanol, exported and only roughly 5% of corn is used for starch, sweeteners or alcoholic beverages.

The smallest amount of corn is used for the production of cereal, corn cobs and other foods. 

There are some rumors that corn isn’t very nutritious because of its high starch content as well as its varying sugar content.

However, corn, which is classed as a vegetable, can be a great source of vital nutrients for our body. Part of a varied diet, sweet corn is an important source of thiamin, phosphorus, folate and fibers.

Corn Is An Everyday Product

You can not only eat corn but wear it, too. Corn as a raw material is used in surprisingly many production processes for everyday items, such as plastics, carpets, paints, sandpaper, soap, car tires and textiles.

Caroline Roberts
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