August 23, 2012 | Mike Holloway, Horticulturist

The Corn Maze at the Denver Botanic Garden’s Chatfield site will soon be open for all to enjoy. In honor of are Corn Maze, I thought it would be fun to write a brief history of corn.

Maize (Zea mays), known in most English-speaking countries as corn, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. To understand the beginning of corn, we must go back to approximately 5000 B.C.E. and we need to travel to the valley of Tehuacan in modern day Puebla, Mexico. The native people developed what they called Teosinte (Zea mexicana) as a food source. Then, it is thought that the Olmecs and Mayans cultivated it in numerous varieties throughout Mesoamerica. Beginning about 2500 B.C.E., the crop spread through much of the Americas and the Caribbean due to a highly developed trade network based on surplus and varieties of maize crops. Enter Christopher Columbus and the explorers that followed him. After being introduced to maize by the native people, they took it back to Europe and introduced it through trade to the rest of the world.
So there you have it, a very brief history of corn.

 Now, here are some fun facts that you might not know about corn.

• Corn is America’s number one field crop.
• An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows.
• A pound of corn consists of approximately 1,300 kernels.
• 100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels.
• Each year, a single U.S. farmer provides food and fiber for 129 people – 97 in the U.S. and 32 overseas.
• In the U.S., corn production measures more than 2 times that of any other crop.
• Over 55% of Iowa’s corn goes to foreign markets. The rest is used in other parts of the U.S.

Corn Products

• Your bacon and egg breakfast, glass of milk at lunch, or hamburger for supper were all produced with U.S. corn.
• Corn is a major component in many food items like cereals, peanut butter, snack foods and soft drinks.
• U.S. researchers have led the way in finding many uses for corn – like in vitamins and amino acids.
• Corn is used to produce fuel alcohol. Fuel alcohol makes gasoline burn cleaner, reducing air pollution, and it doesn’t pollute the water.

Corn Geography

• Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota account for over 50 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. Other major corn growing states are Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.
• Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica.
• The area known as the “Pacific Rim” region (in Asia) is emerging as the world’s fastest growing market for U.S. corn. There, most of the corn is fed to livestock to produce food for humans. The majority of the world’s population is located in the Pacific Rim region.
• Exports are critical to the well-being of American agriculture. Nearly one third of our nation’s corn crop is targeted for export.


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