In this article we will discuss about the origin and cultivation of maize.
Origin of Maize:
Maize is the most widely grown grain crop throughout America with 332 million metric tons per annum in US alone. 40 percent of the crop is used for making corn ethanol.
The word maize is derived from the Spanish form of indigenous Taino word for the plant maize. Maize (Mayz, zea mays sub sp. mays L.) is commonly called corn, is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous people in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times.
Corn outside North America, New Zealand and Australia means any cereal crop; its meaning is understood to vary geographically to refer to the local staple food. In United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, corn primarily means maize. This usage started as a shortening of “Indian Corn”.
“Indian Corn” primarily means maize (the staple food grain of indigenous Americans), but can refer more specifically to multicoloured “flint corn” used for decoration. In places outside North America, Australia and New Zealand, Corn often refer to maize in culinary contexts.
The narrower meaning is usually indicated by some additional words, as sweet corn, dent corn, popcorn, Cornflakes, baby corn, corn on the cop etc. In South Africa maize is called “mielie” is African and “mealie” is English.
Many forms of maize are used for food, sometimes classified as various subspecies to the amount of starch e.g.:
Amylomaize — Zea mays
Dent Corn — Zea mays var. indntata
Flint Corn — Zea mays var. indnrata
Flour Corn — Zea mays var. amylacea
Pod Corn — Zea mays var. eunicata
Pop Corn — Zea mays var. everta
Sweet Corn — Zea mays var. rugosa
Zea mays var. sacharata
Striped maize — Zea mays var. japonica
Waxy Corn — Zea mays var. ceratina
Maize is preferred in formal, scientific, and international usage because it refers specifically to this one grain, unlike corn, which has complex variety of meaning that vary by context and geographical region. Maize is used by agricultural bodies and research institutes, such as the FAO and CSIRO.
Cultivation of Maize:
Maize is the domesticated variant of teosinte. The two plants have dissimilar appearance, maize having a single tall stalk with multiple leaves and teosinte being a short, bushy plant. The difference between the two is controlled by differences in just two genes.
Theories for the specific origin of maize in Mesoamerica are:
1. It is a direct domestication of a Mexican annual teosinte, Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, native to the Balsas River valley is south-eastern Mexico with upto 12% of its genetic material obtained from Zea mays ssp. mexicana through introgression.
2. It has been derived from hybridization between a small domesticated maize (a slightly changed form of a wild maize) and a teosinte of section Luxuriantes either Z. luxurians or Z. diploperennis.
3. It has undergone two or more domestications either of a wild maize or of a teosinte (term teosinte describes all species and subspecies in the genus Zea, excluding Zea mays ssp. mays).
4. It has evolved from hybridization of Z. diploperennis by Tripsacum dactyloides.
It 1930 Paul Mangelsdorf suggested that domesticated maize is a result of hybridization between unknown species of maize and Tripsacum. But it could not be proved genetically. In 1931 Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, Russian botanist and American Nobel Prize winner George Beadle in 1932 proposed the teosinte origin theory. Teosinte and maize are able to cross breed and produce fertile offspring.
Between 1950—1970 the studies on domestication of maize were focused on the hypothesis that maize occurs in the highlands between the states of Oaxaca and Jalisco, because the oldest archaeological remains of maize were known at the time they were found there.
The archaeobotanical studies published in 2009 points to the lowlands of the Balsas River Valley, where stone milling tools with maize residue have been found in a 8700 years old layer of deposits. Primitive corn was being grown in Southern Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America 7000 years ago.
As early as 2500 BC, maize began to spread widely and rapidly. It was first cultivated in what is now the United States, at several sites in New Mexico and Arizona about 2100 BC. As it was introduced to new cultures, new uses were developed and new varieties selected for better purposes.
Maize is the staple food or major staple food. The Mesoamerican civilization was strengthened upon the field crop of maize, through harvesting it, its religious and spiritual importance got the impact on their diet. Maize formed the identity of Mesoamerican people.
During the first millennium AD. maize cultivation spread from Mexico into the U.S. Southwest and then to US Northeast and Southeast Canada. In 2005, research by the USDA Forest Service suggested that the rise in maize cultivation 500—1000 years ago in what is now the Southeastern United States corresponded with a decline of freshwater mussels, which are very sensitive to environmental changes.
After European contact with the American in the late 15th and early 16th century, explorers and traders carried maize crop back to Europe and introduced to other countries. Maize spread to the rest of the world because of its ability to grow in diverse climates. Sugar rich varieties called Sweet Corn are usually grown for human consumption.