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Zea Mays (Maize, Corn)

  1. P Leszek D Vincent

Published Online: 15 AUG 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003687.pub2



How to Cite

Vincent, P. L. D. 2012. Zea Mays (Maize, Corn). eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 AUG 2012


Zea mays L. (maize, corn) is a member of the grass family (Poaceae). It has been an important food crop since ancient times, especially among the peoples of Central and South America. Although most grasses have bisexual florets the mature florets of Z. mays are functionally unisexual on the sample plant, a condition referred to as monoecy. The functionally male florets are borne on the tassel whereas the functionally female florets are borne on the ear. All of the components of the adult Z. mays plant are initiated within the first 4 weeks after germination. Research on maize genetics has led to some exciting discoveries (some associated with the award of a Nobel prize). These discoveries have clarified the putative origin and biology of Z. mays and have also provided significant insights for plant biology as a whole. An overview of the taxonomy of Z. mays is provided.

Key Concepts:

  • The species, Zea mays L. (maize/corn), is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) and a member of the genus Zea. Taxonomically and nomenclaturally maize is known as Z. mays L. ssp. mays.

  • Maize is considered to have evolved from the Mexican annual teosintes (Z. mays ssp. parviglumis and ssp. mexicana).

  • A large number of exciting genetic discoveries originated from the research on maize. One of these discoveries, the phenomenon of transposable elements, resulted in the awarding of a Nobel prize.

  • The flowers of Z. mays, typically referred to as florets, are initially bisexual but before the florets are reproductively functional they become unisexual, resulting in monoecy.

  • The functionally male florets are borne terminally on the plant in the tassel. The functionally female florets are borne laterally on the plant in one or more ears.

  • The occurrence of separate male and female florets in separate flowering structures (inflorescences) on the Z. mays plant (monoecy) has enabled the genetics of this species to be extensively studied because controlled pollinations are relatively easily performed.

  • The morphological structure of the very young florets in Z. mays is typical of the florets in the grass family (Poaceae) in that each floret is subtended by a lemma and a palea. Pairs of florets form spikelets.

  • In the tassel, both florets in each spikelet are functionally male and produce pollen. In the ear one of the two florets in each spikelet aborts. The remaining floret results in a kernel following successful pollination and fertilisation.


  • corn;
  • grass;
  • maize;
  • Poaceae;
  • Zea mays;
  • monoecy;
  • transposons;
  • C4 photosynthesis;
  • cold sensitivity