Its corn pollination time here. For the next few months, our successive corn plantings will be sending up their tassel with small corn cobs below, the silk sprouting out the top. Until I read Michael Pollans book "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals", my thoughts about corn silk ranged from not wanting it to get stuck in my teeth, so painstakingly removing every last piece from each ear when I husked them. To using the silk as attire for the children's corn husk dolls. I had wondered why it was there, what was its job. Nature does not seem to have accidents. Pollan's book answered the question.
The corn plant, like many other vegetable plants, has a male and female anatomy. The male part is the tassel which comes from the corn stalk. The female portion is in the ear of corn...many female portions as each kernel waits to be pollinated from the pollen carried in the tassel.
But how does the pollen which blows in the wind or is released from the stalk being rustled (a child walking through the corn field) reach the kernel sheathed in the corn husk. Each piece of corn silk is linked to a kernel. When a piece of pollen gets stuck on the sticky silk, it divides into two twins. One makes a tunnel in the silk that moves the pollen from the outside of the corn husk, to inside and the awaiting kernel. The second twin follows entering the fertilized ovum where it sets about forming the endosperm - the big starchy part of the kernel. As Pollan puts it, "Every kernel of corn is the product of this intricate menage a trois; the tiny, stunted kernels you often see at the narrow end of a cob are flowers whose silk no pollen grain ever penetrated. Within a day of conception, the now superfluous silk dries up, eventually turning reddish brown; fifty or so days later, the kernels are mature." The amazing ways of nature!!
The first thing we look for, to tell when the ear is ready, is the browning off of the corn silk. Then it is just the feel of a filled out ear of corn. We keep watching and feeling until we cannot wait any longer...and we peek! We hope the corn will be ready for harvest in about three weeks.