Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
This is Part I of a two-part series on Indian or ornamental corns.
Of all the different seasonal florals for fall, Indian corn is one of the most beautiful. This term is used to refer to the various decorative corn types, which tend to be highly colored. In addition to full-size ears, there are a number of miniature-cobbed ones that are used for ornamental purposes.
Corn originated in the New World, but experts donít agree on how this came about. Around 7200 years ago, the native peoples domesticated some sort of wild corn, which has now disappeared. No wild corn exists as it is entirely dependent upon humans for its survival.
Early New World civilizations based their very cultures upon corn. When the corn and other staple crops failed due to prolonged drought or poor environmental conditions, these settlements disappeared. This apparently happened in the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, where the former 13th century dwellings of the Pueblo Indians can still be seen.
Pre-Columbian life revolved around rituals relating to corn. Some of their temples contained life-size corn plants made of gold. The story of corn has become recorded in Pre-Columbian clay-mold pottery when artisans pressed the ears of corn into damp clay to make the molds. Now, centuries later, we are able to look at the impressions and count the very kernels on those ears.
Indian corn is also known as ornamental corn. The confusing thing is that these corns are actually edible, and make great corn flour and corn meal. Letís look at some of the individual varieties that are most useful for fall decorations.
Bloody Butcher is a traditional heirloom variety grown as ornamental corn. This is actually an edible, dent type corn that has been popular for years. Now it is often used for a decoration as well. This matures in about 100 days. Thereís a mix of bright red to dark red kernels on the 8 to 12 inch long ears. Ideal for fall decorations, this will produce one to two ears per stalk.
Wampum is one of the more recent varieties of ornamental corns to be introduced. Bred by Dr. Jim Baggett of Oregon State University, this matures in about 95-105 days. It has smaller ears and smaller kernels than most Indian corns. Much larger color variegation is seen within the ear. Additional hues are provided by the brightly hued tassels, which can be cut before pollen sacs open for drying and decorations. The plants are about 6 to 6Ĺ feet tall. These stalks can produce six or more ears, which are 4 to 5Ĺ inches long.
Red Head ornamental corn has lovely red kernels on six inch long ears. Very ornamental, this matures in only 90 days. The dwarf plants are only 3 feet in height. If you grow this variety in your garden, you can continue to harvest until frost if you till after the first cut.
Painted Mountain is actually a type of flour corn that has traditionally grown by the Native Americans. It features bright, festive shades of most every color, including purples, reds, and golds. This has bright, multi-colored ears that are 7 inches in length. This is a very hardy variety that is suitable for cold areas.
Pencil cob corn is an unusual ornamental corn. The very long slender cobs have dark brownish, copper-like kernels. The plants reach 5 to 6 feet in height, and produce about three ears per stalk. These mature in about 80 days.
Pod corn is also used for ornamental purposes. This has multicolored kernels. These mature in about 105 days. About 50 percent of the ears will have no husk at all, which is unusual for corn. The plants reach 7 feet in height. A seed mix of various pod corns is available. It is called Feather Mixed pod corn. This features a range of colors from reds and purples to tans and browns. The feather in the name refers to the feathery husks over each kernel.
In addition to these varieties, some of the ones grown as popcorn are very suitable for ornamental purposes. Lady Finger popcorn is an Amish heirloom. These have a mixture of purple, red, and yellow kernels. The slender ears are 6 inches long.
Calico popcorn is another heirloom that has been re-selected for color and quality. True calico has strips and patterns in all kinds of colors. The ears are 6 to 8 inches long. Maturing in about 90 to 100 days, this grows from 5 to 7 feet tall. It produces several ears per plant. This is midway between a miniature and Indian popcorn in size.
Strawberry popcorn is just perfect for decorative purposes. It has tiny, two-inch long, strawberry-shaped ears with small, dark crimson to bright purple kernels. These mature somewhere between 80-105 days. Each four foot tall plant will produce several ears.
Mini Blue popcorn and Mini Pink popcorns are also used as ornamental corns. These produce 4 to 6 inch long ears in their respective colors. They mature in about 100 days.
In addition to these varieties, there is no reason one canít use some of the other edible varieties that were traditionally grown by Native Americans, such as Hopi flour corn. This comes in shades of pink and purple, as well as the different blue corns.
This concludes Part I of a two-part series on Indian corns.