There is lots of conversation that occurs this time of year about unusual corn ear formations that appear where tassels are normally found. These formations result in “Tassel Ears.” Although this isn’t an overwhelmingly common occurrence, it is also not rare, as it occurs every year to some degree.
Corn plants are monoecious, meaning that male and female reproductive portions of each plant are in separate areas on the plant. Both reproductive parts begin as bisexual, having both male and female attributes. Then, through normal growth and development, the female portion of the tassel is aborted as well as the male portion of the ear shoots. Final normal development is a tassel at the top of the plant and the ear shoots below.
Corn ears on the tassel indicate that the expected aborting of the female portion of the normally predominant male portion has not transpired. It is not entirely known what causes this phenomena. Possible causes include genetics of the seed, compaction of soil, saturated soil following planting, or plant injury of any kind at V6 or earlier growth stage of development.
Tassel ears are most commonly found on the tillers (suckers) of the corn plant. Most tassel ears are located along field borders. Tillers can be triggered by a genetic trait, low plant population, compaction, or early plant damage from weather events on field borders. To have a tassel ear on the primary corn plant is relatively rare unless the plant was stunted due to other stress related factors.
Tassel corn has been called “Crazy Top “ corn incorrectly. Crazy Top corn is a soil borne disease that only occurs in corn that has been submerged in standing water before V5 stage of growth for an extended amount of time. Crazy Top corn causes the tassel to grow an abnormally heavy amount of vegetation and is commonly a barren plant.
Tillers and tassel ears, on the other hand, have shown no impact on final yields. The tassel ears have no husk covering to protect the kernels from weather, insects, bird feeding and disease. The kernels produced are seldomly harvested.