1902 Encyclopedia > Maize


MAIZE, or INDIAN CORN, Zea Mays, L., from zea or zeia [Gk.], which appears to have been " spelt" (Triticum spelta, L.), according to the description of Theophrastus, is of the tribe Phalarideae, of the order Gramineae or grasses. It is unknown in the native state, but is most probably indigenous to tropical America (Endlicher, Gen. Pl., No. 742). Small grains of an unknown variety have been found in the ancient tombs of Peru. Bonafous, however (Histoire naturelle du Mais), quotes authorities (Bock, 1532, Ruel and Fuchs) as believing that it came from Asia, and maize was said by Santa Bosa de Viterbo to have been brought by the Arabs into Spain in the 13th century. A drawing of maize is also given by Bonafous from a Chinese work on natural history, Zi-chi-tchin, dated 1562, a little over sixty years after the discovery of the New World. It is not figured on Egyptian monuments, nor was any mention made of it by Eastern travellers in Africa or Asia prior to the 16th century. On the authority, however, of Mr J. Crawford, who resided for nine years in Java, Bonafons says it had been cultivated from a very ancient period in the Asiatic islands under the equator, and that it was received thence into China, and so passed westwards into India and Turkey, hence its name of " Turkey corn," under which title Gerard in 1597 figured and described seven kinds, as well as one called " Corne of Asia." Both Gerard and Bonafons think that it first came from the East, but that on the dis-covery of America it was reintroduced into Europe from that country. The former observes :—" These kinds of graine were first brought into Spaine, and then into other provinces of Europe out of Asia, i which is in the Turkes Dominions ; as also out of America and the Hands adioyn-ing from the East and West Indies and Virginia, &c." Humboldt and others, however, do not hesitate to say that it originated solely in America. It had been long and extensively cultivated there at the period of the discovery of the New World. The plant is monoecious, producing the staminate (male) flowers in a large feathery panicle at

FIG. 1.—Male.

FIG. 2.—Male.

the summit, and the (female) dense spikes of flowers, or " cobs," in the axils of the leaves below, the long pink styles hanging out like a silken tassel. They are invested by the sheaths of leaves, much used in packing oranges in South Europe, and the more delicate ones for cigarettes in South America. The accompanying figures are after Nees von Esenbeck, Gen. Pl. Fl. Germ. Fig. 1 shows a branch of the terminal male inflorescence. Fig. 2 is a single spikelet of the same, containing two florets, with the three stamens of one only protruded. Fig. 3 is a

FIG. 3.—Female.

FIG. 4.—Female.

FIG. 5.—Grain.

spike of the female inflorescence, protected by the sheaths of leaves.—the blades being also present. Usually the sheaths terminate in a point, the blades being arrested. Fig. 4 is a spikelet of the female inflorescence, consisting of two outer glumes, the lower one ciliated, which enclose two florets,—one barren (sometimes fertile), consisting of a flowering glume and pale only, and the other fertile, containing the pistil with elongated style. The mass of styles from the whole spike is pendulous from the summit of the sheaths, as in fig. 3. Fig. 5 shows the fruit or grain. More than three hundred varieties are known, which differ more among themselves than those of any other cereal. Some come to maturity in two months, others require seven months ; some are as many feet high as others are inches; somo have kernels eleven times larger than others. They vary similarly in shape and size of ears, colour of the grain, which may be white, yellow, purple, striped, &c, and also in physical characters and chemical composition,—in short, in all those char-acters in which the different species of a genus differ among themselves. The varieties grown most abund-antly in the United States may be roughly grouped into four great classes. The "Flint" varieties are most common east of Lake Erie and north of Maryland, and the "Dent" varieties are the common ones west and south of these points. The "Horsetooth" varieties are grown extensively only in the south, and there they are grown along with the dent. These three classes pass into each other by every gradation, and the grain from all is similar irt chemical composition. The "Sweet" varieties are not grown for the ripe grain, but for boiling corn, and that the stalks may serve as " corn fodder." " Green corn " was an im-portant food with the native Indians. Many of the tribes celebrated its season with religious ceremonies and festivals. In the large cities of America " green corn" is a table luxury, but in the smaller towns and country districts it is an important article of food. Chemical analysis, as well as common experience, shows that this is a very nutritious article of foodj being richer in albuminoids than any other cereals when ripe (calculated in the dry weight). It is capable of being grown in the tropics from the level of the sea to a height equal that of the Pyrenees, and in the south and middle of Europe, but it cannot be grown in England with any chance of profit, except perhaps as fodder. Frost kills the plant in all its stages and all its varieties ; and the crop does not flourish well if the nights are cool, no matter how favourable the other conditions. Consequently it is the first crop to dis-appear as one ascends into the mountain regions, and com-paratively little is grown west of the great plains of North America. In Brittany, where it scarcely ripens the grain, it furnishes a strong crop in the autumn upon sandy soil where clover and lucern will yield but a poor produce. It prefers a deep, rich, warm, dry, and mellow soil, and hence the rich bottoms and fertile prairies of the Mississippi basin constitute the region of its greatest production. Illinois leads in total amount, producing in 1879 nearly 326 millions of bushels, or 105 bushels per head of population. The region of chief production in the United States may be described as a rude ellipse 900 miles long from east to west by 600 miles wide, with Springfield (the capital of Illinois) as its centre. This region pro-duces annually from 1000 to 1400 millions of bushels, or nearly three-fourths of the total crop of the country.

As an article of food, maize is one of the most extensively used grains in the world. Although rich in nitrogenous matter and fat, it does not make good bread. A mixture of rye and corn meal, however, makes an excellent coarse bread, formerly much used in the Atlantic States, and a similar bread is now the chief coarse bread of Portugal and some parts of Spain. When the harder " flint" varieties are roasted, the grains " pop," the skin bursts, and the white interior swells up, emitting a pleasant odour. It is either baked into cakes called tortilla by the Indians of Yucatan, or made into a kind of porridge, as in Ireland. When deprived of the giuten it constitutes osvvego, maizena, or corn flour (see Letheby's Lectures on Food, p. 19 ; and Foods, by E. Smith, 156). Maize con-tains more oil than any other cereal, ranging from 3"5 to 9 '5 per cent, ia the commercial grain. This is one of the factors in its va^e for fattening purposes. In distilling and some other processes this oil is separated and forms an article of commerce. When maize is sown broadcast or closely planted in drills, the ears may not develop at all, but the stalk is richer in sugar and sweeter, and this is the basis of growing " corn-fodder." The amount of forage that may be produced in this way is enormous; 50,000 to 80,000 &c. of green fodder are grown per acre, which makes 8000 to 12,000 Jtb as field-cured. Sugar and molasses have from time to time been manufactured from the corn stalks, but at present this manufacture is not commercially successful.

In the treeless western prairies maize is often grown for fuel, as in many places fuel can be procured so cheaply in no other way. A hundred bushels of ears is equal in heating power to a cord of the best hard wood, and may be grown for a price less than a cord of hard wood brings in the large cities. The use of corn in the industries, as the raw material for the manufacture of alcohol, whisky, starch, glucose, oil, and various food products, increases year by year, with the increase of facilities for production and the increasing applications of chemistry to the arts.

For fuller details see a paper by Professor W. H. Brewer, Yale Col., Conn., from which some of the above details are taken, as well as the Special Report on Cereal Products, Washington, 1882, and the 38th Annual Report of the New York State Agricultural Society, 1878. (G. H.)

The above article was written by Rev. George Henslow, M.A., author of Floral Dissections.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries