The products of meiosis in the male and female flowers of the corn plant are ready for action after the flowers are extended with anthers dangling on the top of plant and silks extending from the ear shoot mid-way up the plant.
Female flowers have extended the stigmata (silks) through the husk exposing them to the air. Male flowers, beginning first from the oldest florets, have extended anthers emerging and filled with pollen grains. With a drop of relative humidity, the oldest anthers will open at the lower tip, releasing the pollen grains. The grains are sufficiently dry to be viable and yet float with the slightest of a breeze. Some claim corn pollen can travel ½ mile in 15 minutes with sufficient wind but considering all the variables, i.e. genetics, relative humidity and amount of wind, it becomes difficult to generalize. Seed producers, attempting to produce pure hybrids are well aware of the influence of pollen distribution.
New corn pollen has a light-yellow color but as it ages and desiccates in dry air it becomes dark yellow. Pollen will germinate when moistened by growing a germ tube. Pollen landing on the silk hairs (trichomes) produce enzymes that allow penetration of the germ tube into the silk. Nutrition in the pollen grain is sufficient to grow about ¾ inch (2 cm). Nutrition from the silk is needed to allow continued growth down the several inches of silk channel to the ovule. Although several pollen grain may initially penetrate the silk only one usually is allowed to reach the ovule, as the silk channel basically collapses as the germ tube progresses. Pollen grain penetration of a silk occurs within 5 minutes but germ tube growth to the ovule may require 40-60 minutes.
Once the germ tube reaches the micropyle of the ovule, the ovule causes the germ tube to burst, releasing the sperm. One sperm cell migrates to the egg cell with its monoploid nucleus fusing with the monoploid egg cell nucleus to form a diploid zygote. The other sperm nucleus enters the central cell, fusing with its two monoploid nuclei forming a triploid endosperm.
This complex process continues millions of times within a single corn field.
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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.