Annual plants such as maize are genetically programmed to salvage nutrients from leaves after pollination, resulting in senescence of the leaves. One study (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0115617) maintained that it begins in the ear leaf of corn as early as 14 days after pollination. These authors found at least 4500 genes involved in the biosynthesis of the senescence process as degradation of leaf cell components and new proteins were made, resulting in the regulated movement of nutrients and sugars from the leaf to the developing ear.
This phenomenon is not unlike the reabsorption of leaf nutrients that occurs in many plants species and is being expressed in the Northern Hemisphere currently in deciduous trees, as the senescing leaves lose nutrients and chlorophyll, eventually abscising from the branch. The similar process in corn begins with the degradation and removal of leaf cellular contents, transportation to the fruit (grain) and eventual development of thickened cells at the base of the leaf, cutting off all movement of water and nutrients in and out of the leaf.
Varieties of corn surely differ in the timing and effectiveness of this senescence process. These differences may be reflected in leaf cellular activity such as leaf disease resistance or drought stress. The modified leaves composing the ear husk undergo the same senescing process, eventually effecting the opening of the husk needed for the evaporative drying of pre-harvest grain. Eventually, the senescing leaves are cut off from the rest of the plant by the development of thick walls in the parenchyma cells at the base of the leaf similar to the abscission layer known as the black layer at the base of a mature kernel. The cutting off of the water into the leaf after the abscission layer is evidenced by the sagging of the leaf.
About Corn Journal
The purpose of this blog is to share perspectives of the biology of corn, its seed and diseases in a mix of technical and not so technical terms with all who are interested in this major crop. With more technical references to any of the topics easily available on the web with a search of key words, the blog will rarely cite references but will attempt to be accurate. Comments are welcome but will be screened before publishing. Comments and questions directed to the author by emails are encouraged.