This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Muzk, Or Indian Corn (Zea Mays), a valuable grass of the tribe of phalaridece. The stems, unlike those of most grasses, are solid, with well defined nodes, and often producing from the lower nodes aerial or prop roots, some of which reach the soil; on the portion of the stem between the nodes is a broad shallow channel upon alternate sides; the stem is simple above, but often produces branches, or suckers, from the lower joints. The long linear-lanceolate leaves are flat, pointed, pubescent above, and with a broad midrib channelled on the upper side; sheaths smooth, downy on the margins, with a short ligule. The inflorescence is monoecious, the staminate flowers in clustered spikes at the summit of the stem, forming what is called the tassel;; the spikelets are two-flowered, each floret having three stamens; the pistillate Dowers are indense spikes crowded upon a rachis, the cob; these are enveloped by the sheaths of altered leaves, the husks; the whole pistillate spike is called the ear, and appears at the axils of the leaves; each pistillate spikelet is two-flowered with one flower abortive; when the grain is ripe the withered glumes, abortive flower, and palets remain upon the cob as the chaff; the ovary is terminated by a long hairlike style, which projects beyond the husks, and is usually bifid at the extremity; these styles together are the silk; after fertilization the ovary enlarges to form the grain and the styles wither; the grain is usually flattened by crowding, wedge-shaped or round-kidney-shaped, with a shallow groove containing the embryo.
In the different varieties from one to four pistillate spikes or ears are borne by each stalk, though rarely more than two, and the number of rows of kernels varies from 8 to 12 or more, but they are always in even numbers. It is not rare to find abnormal specimens in which pistillate flowers are borne upon the tassel, where they perfect their grain, and the end of the cob is sometimes prolonged and furnished with staminate flowers, nrhe maize plant is affected in a remarkable degree by climate and soil; it soon adapts itself to a locality, and by continuous cultivation from the same seed year after year, a local variety or strain becomes established. Though all the kinds of maize in cultivation, at least in the United States, are regarded as of one species, the varieties are almost endless; these are produced not only by local influences, but by selection; it is one of the species in which any peculiarity may be readily fixed in a few years by carefully selecting and sowing seeds from those plants which have the desirable features most strongly marked. In respect to size, there are varieties from 2 or 3 ft. high up to 15 and 18 ft., with the stalks and leaves large in proportion; the ears vary greatly in size and number of rows of kernels, which sometimes reach 24, 32, or more.
There is a great difference in the form and size of the grain; a miniature kind, known as Brazilian, has ears about the size of one's little finger, with grains not larger than a mustard seed; while at the other extreme are the large southern varieties with kernels half an inch long. In the variety called rice pop-corn the kernels are pointed at both ends and but little compressed, and in the dent varieties there is a distinct depression at the upper end of the grain; in some the grains have a sharp hook at the end. In one variety, which has been described by Bonafous as a distinct species, Z. cryptosperma, the floral envelopes of the pistillate flowers, instead of being as is ordinarily the case in a rudimentary or imperfect condition, are fully developed, and enclose the grain when ripe in a miniature husk; this variety has been considered as the primitive type, but it is said to lose its husky envelopes in cultivation; neither this nor any other form of maize has been found in the wild state. The grains of maize present a great variety in color, from white through various shades of yellow to orange, red, brown, violet, purple, and black; by the crossing of varieties kernels of two or more colors in stripes and blotches are produced.
In the Tuscarora and some others the grain is dull and opaque, while in the so-called flint varieties the mass of the grain, the albumen, is translucent; the opaque kinds are very starchy, while the others contain large proportions of fatty matter. In the varieties known as sweet corn the grain is very much wrinkled and shrivelled; in these the conversion of sugar into starch is arrested, and the kernel does not fill out. A well developed stalk of maize is a most beautiful object; it has a stately sub-tropical aspect, and were it not so common it would be prized with us, as it is in some parts of Europe, as an ornamental plant. A few years ago Mr. Thomas Hogg sent from Japan a very-distinct variety (if not species), in which the leaves are finely striped with white, and when young often with a tinge of red; the plant is only about 4 ft. high, but is very leafy, and retains its markings all through the season; it at once became popular in England, but is less frequently seen in our gardens than its merits deserve. - Some writers, including Bonafous (Histoire naturelle du ma'is, Paris, 1836), have attributed an eastern origin to maize, and the subject has been the occasion of much discussion; the matter has been thoroughly examined by Alphonse de Candolle (Geographie botanique raisonnee, Paris, 1855), who sums up thus: "Maize is of American origin, and was not introduced into the old world until after the discovery of the new." It was found in cultivation by the aborigines from New England to Chili; varieties not now in cultivation in Peru have been found in tombs of an antiquity greater than that of the Incas; and Darwin (" Geological Observations on South America," London, 1846) discovered "heads of maize, together with 18 species of recent sea shells, imbedded in a beach which had been upraised at least 85 ft. above the level of the sea." - It is estimated that maize is eaten by a greater number of human beings than any other grain except rice; its analysis shows it to be admirably adapted to sustain life, and to furnish materials for the growth of both human beings and domestic animals.
Recent analyses show the following percentage of nutritive principles: albuminoids (flesh-forming materials), 10 per cent.; carbohydrates (starch, sugar, &c), 68; fat, 7. The amount of ash is a little over 2 per cent., and this contains a large proportion of phosphoric acid in combination with lime and other bases. The amount of fatty matter or oil is notable, varying with the kind of corn from 6 to 11 per cent.; the hard flinty varieties of northern localities have the most, and the starchy kinds the least; wheat contains only about 1 1/2 Per cent, of fatty matter. It will be seen that maize is a highly concentrated nutriment, and is capable of serving, as it does in some tropical countries, as almost the sole food of the population; it is more difficult of digestion than some other grains, and where, as in Central and South America, it is the chief food of the common people, they almost invariably accompany it with capsicum, in the form of chili Colorado or chili rerde, as a stimulus to the stomach. While maize furnishes a large share of the breadstuff of our farming population, it is but little consumed in cities, except to give variety upon the table; but indirect] v it largely contributes to the support of city populations in the way of meats, poultry, butter, etc.
In the unripe state maize in the form of "green corn" is a generally esteemed vegetable, and the quantities daily supplied during the season to cities are enormous; the varieties already alluded to as sweet corn are in the northern states raised exclusively for eating in the green state; the ears are plucked while the contents of the kernels are still milky. A large business is done in preserving this kind of corn in tin cans for use when it cannot be had fresh, and large quantities are dried, being first boiled and then cut from the cob. The favorite dish called succotash consists of unripe beans and green corn cooked together, and in winter it is made from ripe beans and dried sweet corn. One of the primitive methods of preparing the ripe grain for food is to soak it in lye from wood ashes to remove the pericarp or hull; the grain in this process becomes softened, and after washing to remove the lye it is crushed into a paste upon an inclined stone by rubbing it with a smaller long and narrow stone; the resulting dough is then patted into thin cakes and quickly baked upon a tile or iron plate; these cakes are the tortillas of the Mexicans and other Spanish Americans, and it is probable that this method of preparing corn is of great antiquity, as the metatl, or stone for grinding, is found among ruins so old that all tradition respecting them is lost.
Another simple method of preparing corn in use by the Mexicans is as pinole; the grain is roasted, then ground to a coarse meal, which is mixed with sugar and spices; this is stirred with water to form a sort of gruel, and, the grain being already cooked, it is very nutritious; pinole is often the sole provision carried by travellers on long journeys, and forms an important part of the rations of the soldiers. The hull may be removed from the grain by beating; this is done by hand in a wooden mortar, or on a large scale by machinery; corn thus prepared is called hominy and samp, names derived, with the method of preparation, from the aborigines; in the northern states samp is the whole decorticated grain, and hominy that which is broken or coarsely ground, a distinction not made at the south; these preparations of corn are cooked by boiling. Hulled corn is the grain from which the hull has been removed by the use of lye, then thoroughly soaked, and afterward boiled until tender. In the form of meal maize is largely consumed, it being made into a great variety of bread and cakes, conspicuous among which is the New England brown bread, in which rye meal is mixed with the corn meal in the proportion of one third.
Hasty pudding, the praises of which were celebrated in verse by Barlow, is a mush or stirabout of Indian meal and water: this, eaten with milk, is an exceedingly cheap and nutritive food. In some localities only the flinty kinds of corn are used for meal, while in others the starchy varieties arc preferred. Several varieties are known as pop-corn, of which there are white and yellow kinds, those with kernels pointed at the end, and others with the grain of the ordinary shape; when gradually exposed to heat over a brisk fire, the oil in the grain becomes converted into gas, which at length ruptures the grain, causing a singular inversion of its contents; the corn thus popped is many times larger than the original grain, and snowy white; as an article of food it is much prized by children and others, and the preparation of it is one of the small industries which in the aggregate amount to a respectable sum. Corn is sometimes used as fuel; upon prairie farms where there is no wood, and at long distances from a market where corn can be sold and coal bought, it becomes the cheapest obtainable fuel; the cobs after the corn has been shelled from them are in general use as fuel, and farmers prefer them to any other to burn in smoke houses as they think meat thus cured is better flavored than if wood is used; a pipe with a bowl made from a corn cob is a favorite with many smokers.
Besides the uses of the grain, the stalks and leaves are of great value as cattle fodder; the old plan was to top the corn when the grain began to ripen by cutting off the >talk above the upper ear, and to strip off the leaves from the rest, and this is still done by some old-fashioned cultivators; the improved method is to cut up the stalks at the ground as soon as the grain begins to harden, or is "glazed," tie them in bundles, and set these up in the field in large stooks; treated in this way, the corn ripens thoroughly, and all the fodder is saved in an excellent condition. Corn stalks are cut for feeding, and if cut and steamed they are considered equal in value to the common kinds of hay; one ton of stalks is yielded on the average for every 25 bushels of grain. Corn is often sown for the sake of a crop of fodder only; in this case no regard is had to the grain, and the seed is sown thickly and the corn allowed to stand close in order to produce a more succulent crop; it is cut as soon as the tassels open, and cured in small bundles. Large quantities of corn are grown in this manner to be usee as green forage; the plant flourishes best m the hot summer months, the time when pastures begin to fail.
On dairy farms a field of fodder corn is of great importance in keeping up the supply of food; the stalks are cut and red to the animals in their stalls. - Among the miscellaneous uses which the maize plant has served is the manufacture of paper; an Austrian, Von Welsbach, invented a process by which the fibre of the stalks, leaves, and husks could be converted into paper; a few years ago specimens of various grades, from the coarsest to the finest papers, were exhibited in this country, but the manufacture does not appear to have extended. The juice of the stalk before the grain ripens is appreciably sweet, and both sirup and sugar have been obtained from it; the process of clarifying appears to be a difficult one, and for sirup the maize cannot compete with sorghum. The starch of the grain is converted into grape sugar, which in the form of a thick honey-like sirup is used by brewers and wine makers. As with all other forms of starch, that of maize, being capable of conversion into sugar, is by one more step capable of producing alcohol, and whiskey must be mentioned as one of the incidental products of the corn crop.
The starch of maize when examined with the microscope is found to be of irregular grains with many sides, the result of mutual compression, having a distinct hilum; the grains are only about one fourth as large as those of potato starch. Corn starch carefully prepared is much used in delicate cookery for puddings and the like; a similar preparation is largely sold under the name of "maizena." The oil furnished by corn has been found excellent for illuminating purposes, but on account of the expense of extracting it is not likely to come into general use. The husks, or shucks as they are called in some localities, are put to many domestic uses; slit into shreds they are used for filling mattresses, both by farmers and upholsterers; large quantities are prepared at factories in the southern cities, and they form a regular article of commerce; by selecting the more delicate inner ones and plaiting them, table mats and other fancy articles, and even bonnets and slippers, have been made from them; coarser ones are braided to form door mats, horse collars, and other wares. - In America corn is cultivated from lat. 54° N. to 40° S., and in the eastern hemisphere from the Azores to southeastern Europe, some being raised in Asia Minor, Egypt, India, and China. The early colonists of this country soon learned its uses and manner of cultivation from the Indians; large crops were raised on the James river as early as 1608, and it has continued to be one of the most important of our agricultural products.
In the older states it is a question with agriculturists whether corn is a profitable crop to raise simply for the grain; upon poor lands it requires abundant manuring, apd clean cultivation is essential to its success. In a rotation it is of great value as a cleansing crop; i. e., the cultivation it demands leaves the land in excellent condition for whatever crop is to follow. Upon the rich lands of some of the western states the grain can be raised at a surprisingly low cost; the great fertility of the soil allows crops to be taken year after year without manure, and every mechanical appliance is brought into play to reduce the cost of cultivation; corn planters and sulky cultivators allow one man to manage many acres; and now machinery has been invented to save the grower from the most irksome task of husking; and where the corn is sold in the shape of beef and pork, the animals are turned into the field and made to do their own harvesting. In planting, the seed is put in hills or in drills, the distance apart being governed by the kind of corn and the richness of the soil; each method of planting has its advocates; if the land is full of weeds, it is said that these can be more readily kept under if the corn is in hills, to allow of cultivation by plough or cultivator in both directions.
By hill, an elevation is not to be understood, but it is used to express the station for the plants; the old practice of hilling, or drawing the earth up to form a mound around the plants, is abandoned by good cultivators./ The cultivator has numerous enemies to contend with; crows and blackbirds will take the seed when sprouting, or even before it starts, and to prevent this a thin coating of tar is sometimes applied; cutworms take off the young shoot above ground, and the white grub eats the roots below; the chief remedy for these is to sow enough seed to allow for their depredations. The boll worm, so destructive to cotton, also attacks corn, even in the northern states; the moth lays her eggs upon the silk, and the young larva soon finds its way beneath the husks, where it revels upon the tender kernels. The most serious enemy to the crop is not an insect but a fungus, ustilago maydts, which produces what is known as smut; it manifests itself by abnormal growths upon various parts of the plant, but more frequently it attacks the growing grain; a single kernel will sometimes bo found transformed into a soft grayish fungoid mass, as large as an egg or larger; this when broken open will be found to contain a blackish powder, the spores.
This is not only destructive to the corn, but dangerous to the animals which eat it; the death of animals has been directly traced to feeding on com stalks badly affected with smut, and it is said that mules fed upon corn thus diseased lose their hoofs, and that it produces abortion upon cows; it seems to have properties similar to those of the ergot of rye. - According to the federal census, the United States produced 592,-071,104 bushels of Indian corn in 1850, 838-792,742 in 18G0, and 700,944,549 in 1870. The states which produced more than 14,000,000 bushels in 1870 are as follows:
Alabama......... 1 f>,077.948
New York........ 16,442,825
North Carolina___ 18,454,215
During the year ending June 30, 1873, 38,541.-930 bushels of Indian corn, valued at 823,794,-694, were exported from the United States, chiefly to Great Britain, besides 403,111 bushels of meal, worth $1,474,827. In 1872 the total import of Indian corn into Great Britain, chiefly from the United States, amounted to 24,532,670 cwts., valued at £8,691,192. - For a full discussion of the origin of maize, see De Candolle, Geographie botanique, quoted above. A description of the leading varieties is given in Fearing Burr, jr.'s "Field and Garden Vegetables of America'1 (Boston, 1866). A full and exhaustive treatise is Edward Enfield's "Indian Corn, its Value, Culture, and Uses "(New York, 1806).