Zea mays (black-fruited selection)

Taisha wrote today’s entry. We were both challenged to find the bona fide botanical name for this taxon, and had to give up (no results in the USPTO database, for one), so we left it as a black-fruited selection (read more below). Taisha writes:

The past two days in Vancouver have been quite warm and enjoyably sunny–prompting many to get out into the garden. Some have begun planting seeds indoors or in greenhouses, and it won’t be long until we can directly seed outdoors. Today, we have a photo of some caryopses of Zea mays. This black-fruited selection is a heritage strain of popping corn, popularized as a gourmet popcorn from Illinois (see notes associated with the original Flickr image for the name). Zea mays has been featured once before on BPotD, highlighting the work of Dr. Michael Blake from UBC’s Department of Anthropology. Today’s photo was uploaded to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool by Eric Hunt@Flickr. Thanks, Eric!

For those in the temperate northern hemisphere who are anticipating growing plants from seeds soon, I thought I would help explain some oft-used seed terminology. When flipping through seed catalogues or browsing online, you may come across seeds marketed as “certified organic”, “heirloom/heritage”, “open-pollinated”, or “hybrid”. What are the differences?

Certified organic (with an emphasis on Canada, as definitions and regulations are different depending on country): Organic seeds are seeds that are harvested from a plant grown in a way that meets organic regulations. According to Canada’s organic production systems standards (there are provincial as well as international standards), methods are to be used to nurture ecosystems in order to be sustainably productive, increase biodiversity to provide weed and pest control, recycle plant and animal residues, select and rotate crops, manage water, and use tillage and cultivation techniques. A number of substances, methods, or ingredients are prohibited which include (but aren’t limited to) products produced from genetic engineering, synthetic pesticides or other pesticides, containers containing synthetic fungicide, synthetic growth regulators, fertilizers, and sewage sludge (see: Canada’s Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards (PDF)).

Many seeds may be labeled organic, and since 2009 the official Canada Organic Logo has been voluntarily used to mark products that are organic. The certifying body must also appear on the label or at the point of sale.

Heirloom/heritage: Heirloom or heritage seeds are seeds collected from an open pollinated plant that has been cultivated for a number of years, which usually is around 50 years or more (it ranges from company to company). With heirloom/heritage seeds, each generation has been selected for specific characteristics and when grown, harvested, and propagated correctly the characteristics will be retained in each generation. Choosing heirloom varieties that have been grown in one region may be beneficial as they may have adapted to local conditions or may have tolerance to insects or disease that are known to be prevalent to the area.

Open-pollinated: Open-pollinated seeds are collected from plants that have been pollinated by insects, birds, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. Because the breeding is uncontrolled, plants may be more genetically diverse and exhibit differing traits. Over succeeding generations, the taxon may slowly adapt each year to local climate and growing conditions. Maintaining a strain may be difficult, as you must avoid the introduction of pollen from other varieties. Some choose to grow heirloom varieties in isolation either by creating barriers, enclosures, or planting in greenhouses.

Hybrid: Hybrid seeds are products of elite plants with specific traits that are cross-pollinated. The generation grown from the seeds of this cross (the F1 Hybrid) is likely to exhibit improved growth and yield through heterosis or hybrid vigour. A warning though–if you were to collect and grow the seed from the F1 hybrids, you would have an F2 generation that lacks the consistency of the desired traits seen in the previous generation.

With this information, I hope you will be able to make the best choice of seed for planting in your own garden. For local gardeners, suggested planting times for Vancouver can be found in local or regional publications (such as almanacs) or from local seed companies such as West Coast Seeds (PDF of planting chart).

Zea mays (black-fruited selection)

3 responses to “Zea mays (black-fruited selection)”

  1. Katherine

    Thanks! I had been wondering about open-pollinated versus heirloom, and what the F1 stood for. Now I know!

  2. michael aman

    So Monsanto has not corrupted this variety yet? Just a matter of time. I miss corn.

  3. Viola

    What great information to have on hand… the explanation of terms used in describing seed. Very interesting and I thank you kindly, Taisha.

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