Oriental corn (Zea mays) is a member of the nightshade family. It belongs to the same genus as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. They are widely cultivated in many parts of the world including India where they have been used for centuries for their edible seeds or pods. In India ornamental corn is known as khuskha (मुरा के भी).
The leaves of Oriental corn are very small and flat. The flower heads are large and yellowish white with five petals each. Each flower head contains two sepals, which look like little wings.
There is one long peduncle running from the base of the plant all the way up to the top of its flowers. These peduncles contain numerous tiny seeds called nectarines (the Indian name for which is ‘chakka’). The seeds are enclosed within a thin skin around the outside of the seed. The inside of these skins is covered with a thick layer of hard outer coating. These seeds are not edible but they do provide nourishment for insects and other beneficial organisms.
In India, ornamental corn was first introduced into the country during British rule in 1858 when it was brought from Afghanistan to boost grain production in Bengal. Since then it has spread throughout the country and can now be found in all states of India.
In America ornamental corn is used extensively in Indian ceremonies such as weddings, graduations, funerals, religious festival, etc. Ornamental corn plant is very popular in America. In Uganda ornamental corn is also known as khuskha and is used in a traditional beer called murukati.
In many parts of the world ornamental corn is used as a meat or vegetable substitute. The plant contains poisonous substances and human consumption destroys the red blood cells after a period of time causing anemia. It is also used in some areas to brew beer.
It’s better to eat the seeds of ornamental corn after they are dried and toasted. Clean the seeds thoroughly before use. You can then grind them into a fine powder and use them as a natural food coloring.
Ornamental corn has no significant commercial value as far as I know. It’s a common weed in most areas. It’s sometimes seen growing wild among other plants.
How to grow ornamental corn. Ornamental corn (Zea mays) is a close relative of normal sweetcorn and grows in the same way. The only real difference is that ornamental corn varieties produce brightly colored seeds and are grown mainly for their appearance.
They can be planted either in spring or autumn. Prepare a seed bed and work the soil well, removing any lumps or clods. Level the bed thoroughly.
Fall-sown seeds can be sown from mid August to early September. Press the seed lightly into the soil. You do not need to cover it with soil as the plants have tiny seeds and a very fine root system, so they will struggle to compete with weeds if buried.
Spring-sown seeds should be sown from late March to mid April. Again press the seed lightly into the soil but be sure to cover it this time.
Sources & references used in this article:
Traditional maize processing techniques in the New World by SH Katz, ML Hediger, LA Valleroy – Science, 1974 – JSTOR
Races of corn by MM Goodman, WL Brown – Corn and corn improvement, 1988 – Wiley Online Library
Epigenetic changes in the expression of the maize A1 gene in Petunia hybrida: role of numbers of integrated gene copies and state of methylation. by F Linn, I Heidmann, H Saedler, P Meyer – Molecular and General …, 1990 – cabdirect.org
Parker on the Iroquois: Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants; The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet; The Constitution of Five Nations by AC Parker – 1981 – books.google.com
The origin of corn by WC Galinat – Corn and corn improvement, 1988 – Wiley Online Library
Global maize production, utilization, and consumption by P Ranum, JP Peña‐Rosas… – Annals of the new York …, 2014 – academia.edu