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Pictures taken on 2nd September
in a field near Gargrave

Corn on the cob - Maize - (Zea mays)

Did you know that:

Cornflour, cornflakes, tortillas, popcorn and corn on the cob are all made from Maize?

And that 2/3 of the carbohydrates that humans eat come from just three cereal crops: - Wheat, rice and maize?



Grass of the Month - September

In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, CEL website features a different British Grass each month - Follow these pages and you will be come an expert in grasses too. Well, a little more knowledgeable maybe!

1: January - Reed Canary Grass - Phalaris arundinacea
2: February - The Common Reed - Phragmites australis
3: March - Blue Moor-grass Sesleria caerulea
4: April - Sweet Vernal Grass - Anthoxanthum odoratum
5: May - Meadow Foxtail - Alopecurus pratensis
6: June - Quaking Grass - Briza media
7: July- Timothy Grass - Phleum pratense
8: August - Common Bent - Agrostis capillaris
9. September - Corn on the Cob - Zea mays

(Sentence added on 16 Sept: Today I saw corn on the cob for sale in Booths our local supermarket - 65p or three for a pound!. I wonder if it is local? I asked - they said it came from UK - we haven't got any more specific than that)

Female flowers Male flowers


We think of maize / corn on the cob as yellow grains in a tin at the grocers.
Yet did you know that:

  • The great majority of the maize grown in USA and Europe is grown as cattle feed (the whole plant is harvested)
  • The three cereals Maize, Wheat and Rice supply almost two thirds of the worlds calories
  • Although a cultivated plant, maize can grow as a garden escape so is now included in UK flower books such as Stace

My memories of maize:-

  1. In a little patch in our Yorkshire suburban garden, in July and August, hoping the summer would be long enough for the cobs to ripen.
  2. In A level biology classes -genetics- of us being shown colourful cobs with grains of different colours
  3. As a student worker at the Grassland Research Institute, Hurley:- taking some cobs away at the weekend to boil and share with relatives. Cobs from maize growing as cattle feed.
  4. In West Africa including Sierra Leone, there was a season when maize was for sale, roasted at roadsides for passing travellers. It was grown intercropped on sandy soil in Niger. In fact it was about the only plant I recognised when I first went to Sierra Leone.
  5. I once found some young leaves growing on the harbour at Watchet in Somerset, and puzzled what grass it could be. It has wide leaves and a ligule with hairs along the edge of the ligule.
  6. We see it in the UK occasionally in farmers fields in the UK - and say "Look - there's some maize"

Much of the maize imported as cattle feed to the UK is GM maize.
There is much to learn about maize. e.g.:-
Facts and figures on Food and Biodiversity

I looked at the bare gound under the maize crop and thought "This is really not very good for biodiversity- there are no plants growing underneath it."

But then under wheat and barley there will be no other plants.  That is why the RSPB is so keen on having wide field margins that allow other species to grow, to provide food for insects and birds.

There are many stories one can tell about maize - Maize can grow twice as fast as wheat but it can cause nutrient deficiency in humans. It has had a big effect in the role out of history.

Columbus discovered maize in the New World in 1492 and brought it back to Spain (though there is some evidence of Maize-like cobs in earlier statues in India).

Maize was cheap and would grow on poor soil on wetter soil than wheat and in drier soil than rice. It became a dominant food.

Unfortunately wherever maize went a disease "pellagra" followed. People eating a diet consisting only of Maize develop a disease called pellagra - Italian: for sour skin - pelle -skin and agra - sour.

Pellagra is caused by a deficiency in niacin. People get dermatitis, diarrhoea, dementia and death.

Whilst niacin is available in maize, it exists in bound form (niacytin) that is not biologically available to monogastric (single stomach) animals such as humans

In Mexico where people have eaten it for thousands of years, maize is treated with an alkaline solution of lime (or boiled with ash) which releases the niacin before being dried and ground up. more.. They do not get ill. more

A book called "The Heritage of Maize is killing Africans: The Kenyan story" might be interesting to read. more -

Meanwhile I have just looked at the labelling on the packet on the delicious chocloalte cake I am eating - which is going to my waste.. ingredients include Maize starch and dextrose (dextrose is made from maize starch, broken down by the enzyme amylaze produced by GM organisms)

Well - enjoy your next corn on the cob.

What a fascinating world we live in.


ACTION: Go out and look at the grasses near you.


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