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Zea mays

Grasses Family [Poaceae]

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20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
A maze of Maize, it is growing almost everywhere this last decade.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Standing about 5 to 8 feet tall on arable land, it is grown as a crop.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are very long, nearly linear, and peel off the single main stem at about 1 foot intervals.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The base of the leaves strongly clasp the stem, in the axils of which corn cobs (female axillary) grow topped by a mop of long hair (the silking ear), being the (extremely long, up to 20cm) styles of the female flower.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The sheaths have a fringe of short white hairs, especially near the top.

17th Sept 2009, Bispham Green, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
 More mature cobs, the styles having now withered and browned. The leaves have a white central rib. The stems grow in sections, like grasses, of which it is a member.

17th Sept 2009, Bispham Green, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
 The female flowers have enormously long styles, which turn reddish-pink.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
 The styles are covered in glandular red hairs.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
 Male panicle (tassel) up to 20cm long complete with side-branches.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
 The glumes (here red and green) are awnless. They have 2 florets and equal glumes.

20th Aug 2011, Swettenham, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
 Un-opened glumes.

1st Nov 2011, arable land near Bispham Green, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
 When the very close and numerous green sheaths are peeled away, the corn on the cob id made visible. All the stamens originally ran up the whole length of the cob, several strands each between the vertical grooves between the corns, but peeling the sheaths disturbs them.

1st Nov 2011, arable land near Bispham Green, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
 The familiar corns, yellow when ripe. Stray stamens sprawl across. This crop had not been harvested, possibly now for use as animal feed.

1st Nov 2011, arable land near Bispham Green, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Showing its grass-descendancy: the 'joins' between sections of the stems, of which there are several about 8 inches apart.

Before flowering, it has some similarities to : Common Millet (Panicum miliaceum) and to Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), but not after flowering.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

No relation to : Corn [a cereal grass plant with similar name].

In the South of England Maize it is grown on a large scale as a fodder crop for animals, and on a small-scale as a grain crop (Sweet Corn or 'Corn on the Cob'). Note that Corn on the Cob is not Corn as grown as a cereal crop, although the two are in the same Grass family Poaceae. It escapes (bird-sown) from arable fields to grow on tips and waste ground. Sugar rich varieties are grown for human consumption as 'Sweet Corn' whereas 'Field Corn' varieties are used as fodder for animals and as chemical feedstocks for ethanol production and the like.

Flowering time can vary a great deal, and in drought conditions male and female flowers may flower asynchronously, which can result in great loss of crop (Corn cobs).

Maize uses a more efficient photosynthetic machinery called C4 photosynthesis, (where the initial product of photosynthesis is the four-carbon atom compound, oxaloacetate) which does not exhibit the same in-efficiency as C3 photosynthesis, where many of the captured photons of light are wasted in oxidising certain products within the plant!

The cob is the female flower, and is enveloped in several layers of leaves. The only visible part of the female flowers are the long styles that emerge from the top of the cob, first white, then turning yellow and red.

The vast majority of Maize grown in the UK seems destined, not for corn cobs at the dinner table, but for Corn Oil production. Corn Oil is used in cooking and frying, as well as in soap production, paint and rust-proofing for ferrous surfaces. Approximately 99% of Corn Oil consists of triglycerides, of which 55% is polyunsaturated fatty acid, 30% monounsaturated fatty acid and 15% saturated fatty acid.

Of the polyunsaturated fatty acids within Corn Oil, 98% is in the form of omega-6 Linoleic Acid and the remaining 2% made up of Omega-3 Linolenic Acid (alpha). Of the Monounsturated fatty acids, 98% is in the form of Oleic Acid

And of the saturated fatty acids, 80% is in the form of Palmitic Acid, 14% Stearic Acid and 3% Arachidic Acid.

Maize also has the ability to hyperaccumulate radioactive   Caesium-137 from the soil which contaminated vast tracts of Wales and especially the Lake District. It is thus a valuable metallophyte for the phytoremediation of contaminated land, able to mop up a variety of metals from the soil including radioactive uranium. Note that to remove the metals entirely, the plant then has to be harvested and disposed of safely elsewhere. The whole cycle has to be repeated over several seasons to bring radioactive metal contamination down to safe levels. Three times more of the un-wanted metals are contained in the roots than in the aerial parts.

Annual Sunflower is also a valuable Hyperaccumulator of radioactive metals other heavy metals such as zinc and is also used in the Phytoremediation of contaminated land.

A lot of the Maize grown in the UK also goes for animal feed, or for burning in a power station to generate steam to turn turbines which generate electricity for the National Grid (if the UK still has one?). Any not used for Corn Oil, animal feed or power generation is used for human consumption, the higher quality maize from which Sweet Corn and White Maize is produced. Once harvester Maize starts to lose the sugars within the cob, and must either be frozen or cooked or boiled within a few hours of cropping if the quality is to be retained. White Maize, grown mainly in African countries, is not as sweet as Sweet Corn and is now grown in the UK by an African farmer who delivers it far and wide to mainly African and some Far Eastern clients.


Zeatin is one of the Cytokinins aka plant hormones. It was initially found in species of Zea, and is present in Zea Maize. It is derived from the purine base Adenine, which has similarities to other Purines such as Guanine and the Xanthines Theophylline, Caffeine and Theobromine.

Zeatin (not to be confused with Zeathanthin) belongs to the family of plant-growth hormones called cytokinins (which modulate cell division and shoot formation) and is also found in Coconut milk. It promotes the growth of lateral buds and can be applied artificially by spraying on to the meristems of plants where it induces cell division leading to bushier plants. Cytokinins are highly synergistic with Auxins, augmenting each other. The ratios of these two groups of plant hormones control most of the main growth periods over a plants lifetime with the cytokinins countering some of the effects of the auxins. The ratio of the two govern where growth occurs, increased cytokinin induces more shoot growth whilst more auxin induces root formation.

Kinetin, a cytokinin first found in Millet, but in 1996 was found to naturally exist in the DNA of cells from almost every organism tested so far. It is thus ubiquitous and is thought to be produced from Furfural (aka Furfuraldehyde) which is derived as an oxidation product from the DeOxyRibose sugar in DNA, followed by the subsequent reaction of furfural with the Adenine bases in DNA. Kinetin should not be confused with other growth promoters called Karrikins)


Indole-3-Acetic Acid (IBA) is present in Maize and also the non-native Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis) and in all Willow Trees (Salix) it is not widely found. It is a phytohormone belonging to the Auxin family which includes such members as Indole Acetic Acid (IAA) and the far more potent (by a 100-fold) 4-Chloro-IndoleAcetic Acid (4-Cl-IAA). It is used commercially as a plant hormone and was once thought to be non-natural until it was discovered in several species of plants. It's modus operandi is contentious, with some scientists suggesting Indole-3-Butyric Acid is converted into IndoleAcetic Acid before being an effective hormone whilst other researches suggest that it acts as an auxin in its own right.

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Zea mays

Grasses Family [Poaceae]

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