From the Archives of 2008—7: A Corn Saga, Part 1
April 17, 2022
Between May and November of 2008 on my walks down to the Vermilion River I took hundreds of photographs of a corn field near our then-home. I learned a lot during the project, from observation and from consultation with my live-in botanist. I didn’t learn until August that year that this wasn’t a crop of sweet corn but field corn. That’s when I also learned, thanks to David, that most corn grown in Ohio is field corn, used to make cattle feed, sweeteners, and ethanol. All three uses are unfriendly to the environment and public health. As a beginner vegetarian who likes to think of herself as an environmentalist, I wasn’t too keen on these uses of corn, but by then my engagement with the look—the physicality—of this plant was firmly established. So please don’t take this project as a paean to the beef industry but merely as documentation of the appearance of one plant and enjoyment of its stages of growth and decay.
Although I whittled and whittled the photographs to make a decent-length post, in the end I had to stretch this corn saga over two long posts. Meanwhile, I continue to photograph my neighborhood and will return to posting more variety soon.
1 I had no intention of photographing the life cycle of the cornfield when I took this photograph May 25, 2008.
2 Sun shining through the seedlings by June 1 enhanced their graceful appearance. I was beginning to get hooked.
3 Also on June 1 it was apparent that the corn rows were leafier.
4 By June 22, the cornfield had begun to look a lot more dense.
5 That morning sparkling dew on this corn leaf grabbed my attention.
6 Seven days later the leaves developed white stripes down their centers.
7 Corn is planted at a density of 10 to 12 thousand plants per acre, says David. The idea is to cram as many plants into an area as possible without their shading each other, which would reduce their yield.
8 By July 6 the corn rose more than knee high and created an interesting shadow on nearby grass and clover.
9 By the 16th the wall of corn looked more impenetrable than previously. All of the light that could be efficiently harvested was being intercepted by the leaves.
10 Four days later I noticed strange toes growing at the foot of the plants. This required major consultation with David. He said that these are prop roots. Each one is tipped with fluid that will help it avoid injury as it moves through the soil.
11 Ears of corn, where the female flowers are located, were well on their way by July 20.
12 On July 26 I noticed that the ears develop at more or less the same height from the ground.
13 I also saw that some plants had developed a second tier of roots higher up the stalk. Notice how the soil around the front root has been displaced by the burrowing root.
14 And I saw that there was action at the tops of the plants. These are the emerging tassels, which bear the male flowers. Many of the flowers were releasing their wind-dispersed pollen.
15 By July 30 some of the corn silk was changing color, indicating that the female flower had been pollinated. (Each strand of silk is part of a female flower and leads to a kernel, the other part.)
16 On August 3 most leaves were still quite green except for their white stripe.
17 At the bottoms of the stalks some senescence was beginning. The bottom leaves were turning brown.
18 And the feet were no longer very colorful.
19 The sun had a easy time tunneling through the plants by August 24 as leaves began to droop and turn lighter shades of yellow and orange.