Corn Tillers

Tillers on sweet corn on the left and right of the central stalk.
Tillers on my sweet corn growing on the left and right of the central stalk.


My corn is primitive not advanced and that is just fine by me. How do I know it is primitive? One way is by the tillers, those side shoots coming from the base that are (erroneously) called suckers. Tillers are part of corn’s legacy stretching back to the time when corn as we know did not exist. Over ten thousand years ago corn was teosinte, a wild grass with a bushy form because of its many tillers.

I see many stands of field corn in my county that have no tillers. At one time tillers were thought to be detrimental to corn sapping productivity and farmers would walk their fields snapping off the tillers. Plant breeders worked to breed this trait out of corn and now modern corn hybrids have a low incidence of tillering. But tillers are not nutrient sinks and contribute photosynthates to the rest of the plant and can even grow ears of corn.

I’ll stick with my “primitive” corn varieties with their many tillers and cobs with eight to ten rows of kernels because they grow and produce in this tough environment of cool weather, frequent frosts and droughts, and low-nutrient soils every year.

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