Grow Your Corny Vocabulary

Grow Your Corny Vocabulary

If you hang around a corn farmer for too long, you’ll start hearing all sorts of weird jargon that might not make much sense. But thanks to our “corny vocabulary,” you can learn the lingo in no time at all!


maize Maize

“Maize” is simply the Spanish word for corn! In many other parts of the world, this is the traditional way to refer to corn. Most historians believe that corn was domesticated in Mexico, which could be why “maize” is predominantly used in places outside North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Zea mays

This is the scientific name for all varieties of corn. Within this species, the varieties are denoted separately. For example, sweet corn is known as Zea mays var. saccarata and Zea mays var. rugose. Some beauty products such as lipstick and eye makeup, list “zea mays” as an ingredient, indicating that the product contains corn or a corn by-product.

Twisted Corn Whorl

twisted corn whorl Twisted Corn Whorl

This is a condition that develops when immature corn is subjected to a quick shift from weeks of slow growth (cool and cloudy weather) to rapid development (hot and humid weather). This “problem” is common, and rarely affects a large percentage of the crops in any given field. When this condition occurs, the higher leaves (usually at least the 5th or 6th leaf on the stalk) appear crinkled and eventually, they are tightly wrapped in on themselves and often bent towards the ground. The good news is that the issue usually corrects itself within a week or two! Sometimes the twisted leaves may be yellow as they unfurl because the inner parts of the leaf aren’t getting any sunlight while they’re wrapped up, but this is quickly rectified by sunlight, and you won’t notice any permanent damage other than some minor crinkling on the leaves.

Green Snap

This term describes the breakage of the corn stalk, usually by high winds. This type of weather-related damage occurs primarily in the central and western Corn Belt where the flat plains make winds more prevalent, though it can happen anywhere. The corn is most susceptible to green snap during its periods of rapid growth, because the cell walls inside the plant are brittle and therefore are weaker and prone to damage. Green snap that occurs lower on the stalk (below the ear) will almost certainly result in a loss, though if it occurs early enough in the growing season, the remnants of the plant may compensate for the loss.


tasseling Tasseling

At the top of each corn stalk are several stems with male flowers, called tassels. These flowers contain pollen, which is released when the conditions are warm and dry, and the tassel has matured. The appearance of these tassels is called “tasseling,” and indicates that the corn stalk has reached its maximum height.

Corn Borers

These pests can damage both the ear of corn and the stalk by chewing tunnels. This causes the plants to fall over, and they generally cannot recover. Female corn borer moths lay clusters of eggs on the underside of the corn leaf, and the caterpillars hatch by chewing their way out of the eggs, at which time they will begin to chew their way through the corn stalk. There are several different varieties of corn borers, but the most common in Pennsylvania is the European Corn Borer.

Corn Smut

corn smut Corn Smut

Corn smut is a kind of disease that is caused by a fungus called Ustilago maydis. The fungus infects the ear of corn by causing the kernels to swell up into galls, giving a mushroom-like appearance. In Mexico, corn smut is considered a delicacy, and is known as “huitlacoche.” The galls are harvested before they’ve fully matured, while they still retain moisture. When cooked, they are said to have a mushroom-like flavor—sweet, savory, woody and earthy. Though the delicacy never really caught on in American or European diets, some farms in Pennsylvania and Florida were allowed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purposely infect corn with the disease, which would then be sold to high-end restaurants. Generally speaking, farmers in the US consider corn smut to be a blight, and work hard to keep it away from their fields.


This is a big fancy word for “wind pollination,” which means that during the pollination process, pollen is distributed by the wind. Corn is anemophilous, along with oaks, sweet chestnuts, and members of the hickory and walnut family. Often, pollen from anemophlious plants has little nutritional value to insects, so they might only visit these types of plants when other higher-protein pollens are scarce.

Combine Harvester

combine harvester Combine Harvester

Often referred to simply as a “combine,” this machine is used for harvesting grain crops like wheat, soybeans, and of course corn. It is so named because it combines the three separate harvesting operations (reaping, threshing, and winnowing) into one process. The reaping process involves cutting and gathering the crop when they are ripe. The threshing process loosens the edible part of the grain from the surrounding chaff or husk. The winnowing process actually separates the grain from the chaff. When harvesting corn, a special head is put on the combine, which strips the ear (and husk) away from the stalk and leaves so that much less material enters the combine and goes through the process.

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