Why Does Corn Have Silk? | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Why Does Corn Have Silk?

Why does corn have silk? I mean, I think it's fun to tear through the husk to reveal the ear, like unwrapping a present, but picking those sticky little strings off the kernels quickly turns tedious.So why doesn't someone invent silk-less corn, like seedless watermelon, to make life easier for lazy...

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Corn silk, courtesy of Flickr user jenny downing


Why does corn have silk? I mean, I think it's fun to tear through the husk to reveal the ear, like unwrapping a present, but picking those sticky little strings off the kernels quickly turns tedious.

So why doesn't someone invent silk-less corn, like seedless watermelon, to make life easier for lazy consumers like myself?

I wondered this aloud recently.

"You're a food writer; shouldn't you know that?" my husband responded. "And can you also find out what eggplant has to do with eggs? I've been wondering that."

Um, okay. One thing at a time!

Here's an explanation from " The Book of Wonders," aimed at children and published in 1915 by something called the Bureau of Industrial Education; it's correct but comically euphemistic:
The tassel or flower in this case contains the "father nature" of the corn plant, and the ear of corn contains the "mother nature.".... The ear of corn is really the ovary of the corn plant, because that is where the seeds grow....Every grain of corn must receive some of the pollen powder from the tassel or father nature at the top of the corn plant or it will not develop into a nice large, juicy kernel.

Before the kernels of corn grow the tassel is in bloom. The wind blows and shakes the pollen powder off of the tassel and the powder falls on the ends of the silk which stick out of the little ear of corn to be. Each thread of silk then carries a little of the powder down to the spot on the ear where it is attached and thus the grain of corn receives the fertilizing necessary to develop it into a ripe seed.
Got that, kids? Good, now eat your ovaries-on-a-cob and let's move on to the chapter titled " What Makes Us Red in the Face." I'll tell you about the eggplant later.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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