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MAIZE, or INDIAN CORN

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 449 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MAIZE, or INDIAN CORN, Zea Mays (from i-ea or which appears to have been " spelt," Triticum spelta, according to the description of Theophrastus), a plant of the tribe Maydeae of the order Gramineae or grasses (see fig. 1). It is unknown in the native state, but is most probably indigenous to tropical America. Small grains of an unknown variety have been found in the ancient tombs of Peru, and Darwin found heads of maize embedded on the shore in Peru at 85 ft. above the present sea-level. Bonafous, however (Histoire naturelle du mais), quotes authorities (Bock, 1532, Ruel and Fuchs) as believing that it came from Asia, and maize was said by Santa Rosa de Viterbo to have been brought by the Arabs into Spain in the 13th century. A drawing of maize is also given by Bonafous from a Chinese work on natural history, Li-chi-ichin, dated 1562, a little over sixty years after the discovery of the New World. It is not figured on Egyptian monuments, nor was any I. any mention made of it by Maize—Zea Mays—unripe cob. Eastern travellers in Africa or The membranous spathes have Asia prior to the 16th cen- been cut and drawn aside, revealing tury. Humboldt, Alphonse de the spike of fruit which bears the Candolle and others, however, long silky styles. One-third nat. do not hesitate to say that it size. originated solely in America, where it had been long and extensively cultivated at the period of the discovery of the New World; and that is the generally accepted modern view. Some hold the view that maize originated from a common Mexican fodder grass, Euchlaena mexicana, known as Teosinte, a closely allied plant which when crossed with maize yields a maize-like hybrid. The plant is monoecious, producing the staminate (male) flowers in a large feathery panicle at the summit, and the (female) dense spikes of flowers, or cobs," in the axils of the leaves below, the long pink styles hanging out like a silken tassel. They are invested by the sheaths of leaves, much used in packing oranges in south Europe, and the more delicate ones for cigarettes in South America. Fig. 2 shows a branch of the terminal male inflorescence. Fig. 3 is a single spikelet of the same, containing two florets, with the three stamens of one only protruded. Fig. 4 is a spike of the female inflorescence, protected by the sheaths of leaves—the blades being also present. Usually the sheaths terminate in a point, the blades being arrested. Fig. 5 is a spikelet of the female inflorescence, consisting of two outer glumes, the lower one ciliated, which enclose two florets—one (a) barren (sometimes fertile), consisting of a flowering glume and pale only, and the other (b) fertile, containing the pistil with elongated style. The mass of styles from the whole spike is pendulous from the summit of the sheaths, as in fig. 4. Fig. 6 shows the fruit or grain. More than three hundred varieties are known, which differ more among themselves than those of any other cereal. Some come to maturity in two months, others require seven months; some are as many feet high as others are inches; some havekernels eleven times larger than others. They vary similarly in shape and size of ears, colour of the grain, which may be white, yellow, purple, striped, &c., ,and also in physical characters and chemical composition. Dr E. Lewis Sturtevant, who has made an extended study of the forms and varieties, classes into seven groups those grown primarily for the grain, the distinguishing characters of which are based on the grains or kernels; there are, in addition, forms of horticultural interest grown for ornament. Pod corn (var. tunicata) is characterized by having each kernel enclosed in a husk. Pop corn (var. everta) has a very large proportion of the " endosperm "—the nutritious matter which with the small embryo makes up the grain—of a horny consistency, which causes the grain to pop when heated, that is to say, the kernel becomes turned inside out by the explosion of the contained moisture. It is also characterized by the small size of the grain and ear. Flint corn (var. indurata) has a starchy endosperm enclosed in a horny layer of varying thickness in the different varieties. The colour of the grain is white, yellow, red, blue or variegated. It is commonly cultivated in Canada and northern United States, where the seasons are too short for Dent corn, and has been grown as far north as 50° N. lat. Dent or field corn (var. indentata) has the starchy endosperm extending to the summit of the grain, with horny endosperm at the sides. The top of the grain becomes indented, owing to the drying and shrinkage of the starchy matter; the character of the indented surface varies with the height and thickness of the horny endosperm. This is the form commonly grown in the United States; the varieties differ widely in the size of the plants and the appearance of the ear. The colour of the grain varies greatly, being generally white, yellow, mottled red, or less commonly red. Soft corn (var. amylacea) has no horny endosperm, and hence the grains shrink uniformly. It is cultivated only to a limited extent in the United States, but seems to have been commonly grown by the Indians in many localities in North and South America. Sweet corn (var. saccharata) is characterized by the translucent horny appearance of the grains and their more or less wrinkled condition. It is pre-eminently a garden vegetable, the ear being used before the grain hardens, when it is well filled but soft and milky. It is often cooked and served in the cob; when canned it is cut from the cob. Canned sweet corn is an important article of domestic commerce in Canada and the FIG. 5.—Female Spikelet. United States. In starchy sweet corn (var. amylea-saccharata) the grain has the external appearance of sweet corn, but examination shows the lower half to be starchy, the upper horny and translucent. A form of flint corn, with variegated leaves, is grown for ornament under the name Zea japonica or Japanese striped corn. Chemical analysis, like common experience, shows that Indian corn is a very nutritious article of food, being richer in albuminoids than any other cereals when ripe (calculated in the dry weight). It can be grown in the tropics from the level of the sea to a height equal to that of the Pyrenees and in the south and middle of Europe, but it cannot be grown in England with any chance of profit, except perhaps as fodder. Frost kills the plant in all its stages and all its varieties; and the crop does not flourish well if the nights are cool, no matter how favourable the other conditions. Consequently it is the first crop to disappear as one ascends into the mountain regions, and comparatively little is grown west of the great plains of North America. In Brittany, where it scarcely ripens the grain, it furnishes a strong crop in the autumn upon sandy soil where clover and lucerne will yield but a 'poor produce. It prefers a deep, rich, warm, dry and mellow soil, and hence the rich bottoms and fertile prairies of the Mississippi basin constitute the region of its greatest production. It is extensively grown throughout India, both for the ripe grain and for use of the unripe cob as a green vegetable. It is the most common crop throughout South Africa, where it is known as mealies, being the staple food of the natives. It is also largely used for fodder and is an important article of export. As an article of food maize is one of the most extensively used grains in the world. Although rich in nitrogenous matter and fat, it does not make good bread. A mixture of rye and corn meal, however, makes an excellent coarse bread, formerly much used iii the Atlantic states, and a similar bread is now the chief coarse bread of Portugal and some, parts of Spain. It is either baked into cakes, called tortilla by the Indians of Yucatan, or made into a kind of porridge, as in Ireland. When deprived of the gluten it constitutes oswego, maizena or corn flour. Maize contains more oil than any other cereal, ranging from 3.5 to 9.5% in the commercial grain. This is one of the factors in its value for fattening purposes. In distilling and some other processes this oil is separated and forms an article of commerce. When maize is sown. broadcast or closely planted in drills the ears may not develop at all, but the stalk is richer in sugar and sweeter; and this is the basis of growing " corn-fodder." The amount of forage that may be produced in this way is enormous; 50,000 to 8o,000 lb of green fodder are grown per acre, which makes 8000 to 12,000 lb as field-cured. Sugar and molasses have from time to time been manufactured from the corn stalks. See articles on corn and Zea Mays in L. H. Bailey's Cyclopaedia of American Horticulture (1900–1902); and for cultivation in India, Watt's Dictionary of the Economic Products of India, vi. (1893).
End of Article: MAIZE, or INDIAN CORN
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