Skip to Main Content

Kernels of Knowledge: Corn, a family full of variety

Agriculture is a vital component of Indiana’s history, culture and future. Discover the development of corn and Purdue University’s contributions to its growth with Purdue Agriculture’s short series, Kernels of Knowledge. 

If you’re driving in Indiana, one thing is certain in three out of four seasons: you’re going to see a lot of corn! That’s no real surprise, since Indiana ranks second in the U.S. for popcorn production and fifth for field corn production. But, as you’re looking at them, have you ever wondered why some fields of corn are taller than others? Or why people or machines remove corn tassels from some plants but not others?

Read on for answers to those questions and learn about visible traits to help you identify the different types of corn grown in Indiana, with help from Dan Quinn, assistant professor of agronomy and Purdue Extension corn specialist.

One way to recognize popcorn in the field: popcorn tassels are often much larger and droopier than the tassels of field corn. Thanks in part to one of our most famous alumni, Orville Redenbacher, Purdue Agriculture has long been associated with popcorn. Here’s how it works: popcorn kernels are dried to a specific moisture content, then pop and turn inside out as they’re heated and the moisture turns into steam.

Research in the college has been essential to the development of this snack. Bruce Ashman, professor emeritus of botany and plant pathology, built a world-class popcorn genetics program that produced seeds optimal for popping, and Ag Alumni Seed, a Purdue affiliate, is one of the leading global vendors of hybrid popcorn seeds.

Seed corn produces hybrid seeds with specific desired traits that will be used in a future growing season. In the field, seed corn is grown in blocks of female rows with a male row. It’s typically most noticeable during the pollination period, when tassels from the female plants are removed by hand or machine to ensure only the pollen from the male plants is used to pollinate the female plants.

types of corn

Featured Stories

Fresh cuts of beef line the racks at the Boilermaker Butcher Block.
Beefing over prices: How brisket went from the cheapest to most coveted cut

A king among barbecue platters, the brisket is a finicky cut of meat packed with fat and tissue....

Read More
Food scientist examines mouse tissue through a microscope that is displayed on a computer monitor
Laboratory fishing expedition reels in a big catch: hidden pathogenic role of a housekeeping enzyme in Listeria

Purdue University doctoral student Dongqi Liu has identified a previously unknown strategy that...

Read More
Corn field with lots of rain
Purdue-led USDA project aims to double impact of climate-smart Corn Belt agriculture

Purdue University is leading a $1.5 million partnership with the U.S. Department of...

Read More
Several rows of corn grow in a field.
Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs honors Purdue’s Nicoletti-Martinez’s outreach and assistance to migrant farm workers

For a career dedicated to assisting migrant farmworkers and their families for over 20 years,...

Read More
Joshua Widhalm
A track record of scholarly excellence: Widhalm named 2023 University Faculty Scholar

“If you ask my mother, I declared in third grade that I was going to be a professor one...

Read More
W. Andy Tao, professor of biochemistry at Purdue, led a team with Anton Iliuk of Purdue spinoff Tymora Analytical Operations to apply the company’s EVtrap technology to early testing for neurodegenerative diseases and cancer
New liquid biopsy method offers potential for noninvasive Parkinson’s disease testing

A team led by researchers at Purdue University and Purdue spinoff company Tymora Analytical...

Read More
To Top