Annual plants such as corn undergo physiological changes after flowering, especially in corn that is genetically selected to maximize capture of products of photosynthates in the grain. Flow of carbohydrates within the plant are directed by hormones produced in meristems. Before flowering that flow went to growing leaves and roots near meristems. Excess carbs were stored in parenchyma cells in stalk tissues. After flowering, hormones direct the flow towards the developing kernels.
Genetics and environments influence the intensity of the flow. Hybrids that tend to have more total starch in the ear either because of more kernels or larger kernels are favored by humans but risk early death of roots and leaf tissue that still require the energy provided by carbohydrates for cellular metabolism. Environments that reduce optimum photosynthesis during the grain fill period accelerate the depletion of carbohydrate reserves stored in the stalk tissue. In some hybrids, perhaps all, the depletion becomes most evident in the stalk tissue near the flag leaf, eventually resulting in an abscission layer to form at the base of the flag leaf, cutting off water to that leaf and eventual wilting of the leaf. Fungi such as Colletotrichum graminicolaare able to invade the outer rind of that small stalk tissue with typical anthracnose symptoms. This loss of productive photosynthetic tissue in the small leaf is insignificant and could be indicating good grain fill. Loss of significant root tissue is more important.
The challenge of the corn breeder is to select hybrids that have the balance of maximum grain production capturing all carbohydrates available without causing too much damage to needed life functions in the plant. The challenge of the grower is to provide environments that maximize this possibility.
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.