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ORNAMENTAL CORNS, FLOUR CORN and POPCORN (Zea mays) family: Poaceaceae


Ornamental Foliage Corns

broc flower

It's odd how Hollywood has made something so simple as the wind rustling through a corn field seem so sinister that I have to pause at times to look closer into the darkness between the rows. "Was that "Shoeless" Joe in my corn?", I imagine. It conjures up thoughts of spirits, aliens, crop circles, evil children and GMO pollen spreading over the countryside. I shudder at the thought.

We are still searching for a corn marketed by the Geo. Park Seed Company in the 1960's called Gracillis. That was a yellow flint corn and had leaves that were green with bold white stripes. I haven't found it within the normal sources of germplasm but I'm hopeful that somewhere, someone is still saving seed of Gracillis.

Indian Corn- Ornamental Flint Corn

What is sometimes referred to as Indian Corn is usually a multicolor flint corn but it can also be a flour corn. The difference is that flint corns have a very hard pericarp and a hard starchy interior endoderm and Flour corn has a very soft endosperm. Flint corns can also be ground into a flour but their hard starch tends to shatter rather than grind into a powder. Because of this, the flint type corns make more of a gritty flour. Because the kernels of flint corn are so hard, they are good storage corns and were selected by many native Indian tribes in colder, more humid parts of North America for winter storage in great underground caches (sort of like root cellars). Unlike the softer flour, dent and sweet corns, these would never mold or rot over the winter. Indeed, they are much easier to grow organically than any other corn and tend to dry on the stalk very well even into the cold and wet fall.


Popcorn is a flint corn. Flint corns have a very hard pericarp (the outer colored part of the corn kernel) and an internal starchy endosperm that holds a small amount of evenly dispersed moisture. As the kernel is heated up in your favorite popcorn maker, this water begins to turn to steam. Since the steam is held tight by the pericarp, the pressure starts to build (like in a pressure cooker) until the pericarp explodes releasing a kind of expanded. puffy, inflated endosperm. Voila, popcorn!

All flint corns have the ability to pop, if not completely dried out (which might happen if the grain is stored in the open under warm, dry conditions for long periods of time. But the results are variable to say the least.

Japonica Striped and Old Gold

Japonica Striped is marketed by the Seed Saver's Exchange. It looks a lot like an ornamental foliage corn that was called Harlequin or Quadricolor marketed by the Geo. Park Seed Company in the 1960's. It is a flint corn with black to purple-black seeds. Japonica will pop but it's of poor quality.

Japonica is detasseled in our mass popcorn planting so that better popping genetics is transferred to japonica rather than to accept poor quality popping transferred to our good popping types. Japonica will be the female in this case but will not contribute pollen to the mass cross.

Our mass planting consists of the very large cob colorful popcorns. Included are commercial popcorns known to have outstanding popping quality.

It's a minor player in the project and was planted as an after thought. We include it in our mass popcorn breeding project with the hopes that it might become a better popper and at the same time keep it's ornamental foliage color in future generations. Popcorn, like Japonica, is a kind of flint corn with a very hard kernel.

For a short time we looked at Old Gold as a possible contributor of foliage genes to our popcorn but after several crosses, it doesn't look likely.

Dent Corn

Old Gold is a dent corn or field corn. Nearly 50% of the corn raised in America are various dent corn hybrids raised for animal food. Not nearly as beautiful as the ornamental foliage corn though! Dent corn dries with a prominent "dent" where the pericarp shrinks because of an endosperm consisting of both soft and hard starches which dry at different rates. Yellow dent corn has a relatively soft, inner starchy layer which grinds nicely. It is the corn used to make corn chips and taco shells as well as dozens of other food products are produced from the corn meal produced from dent corn.

Dent corn is used to produce a variety of food products including hominy. See for more information of the pickling lime preparation of this healthful product from dent corn. According to Walton Feed's website grinding your own corn to make meal and flour is worthwhile. "... nutritionally speaking, there's a big difference between the corn meal you can buy in the store and freshly ground corn meal you grind yourself at home. There's a couple of reasons for this. In store-bought corn flour or meal, the outer skin (a great source of fiber) and the germ which is loaded with nutrients has been removed. The grain millers particularly like to remove the germ as it contains the oils that quickly go rancid - something they don't want to happen before you get their cornmeal home and used. Unfortunately, it also contains many of the vitamins and minerals that make corn so healthy."

Flour Corns

Flour corns can also make nice ornamental "Indian Corn" for decoration although since the endosperm is made of soft starch, the kernels are easily crushed and are more prone to rot or insect infestation with improper storage. Since flour corn contains soft starch it is easy to grind into a soft flour. Foods such as tortillas, pancake mixes, cornbread mixes, and corn chips are often made from flour corn.

Parching corns are varieties of flour corns although not all flour corns make the tastiest parching corn (Native Seed Search have nice parching corns in their collection). Although common in the southwest among native populations, parching corn is a somewhat sweet, satisfying and nutritious snack with a long storage life. When heated slowly, the flour corn kernels expand only slightly and the seed coat usually splits when it is ready to eat. Heating can be done without oil or any other additives, even in the microwave!

Blue corn is another flour corn which is showing up in Mexican restaurants, health food stores, and some supermarkets where blue corn products are now being marketed. Blue corn, actually plants produce cobs of blue and mixtures of blue and white kernels is considered one of the highest protein-rich corns. The protein content of blue corn is 30% higher than dent corns.