The Long Journey from Maize to Corn

In many places in the world, the name “maize” is used interchangeably with “corn”. However, these aren’t the same plant. Through a very long time of selectively breeding, corn was developed from maize, but they aren’t the same plants, any more than wild tomatoes and garden tomatoes are the same thing.

Maize is properly a species of grass called Zea mays parviglumis. This is a very specific subspecies. This is shown in the picture as the plant on the left. Although maize was edible and is still grown in parts of Mexico where it originated, the individual grains were small and there weren’t many of them on each stalk. Currently, maize is primarily used to make flour. This is appropriate since the grains are roughly the size of wheat seeds.

Through centuries of selective breeding, something was gradually developed that looked more like corn. This is the plant in the center of the image. The kernels were a little larger and there were more of them per fruiting body, which began to take the form of ears of corn. The ears were also a little larger.

Centuries of additional breeding and modern corn was finally produced (the ear on the right in the picture). These have since been developed into the six kinds of corn. The point is that while corn was developed from maize, the plants and the seeds are substantially different. As can be seen in the image, maize doesn’t bear much resemblance to corn, though they are closely related.

This is important because many people still think that maize and corn are the same things. They aren’t. The former was the ancestor of the latter. It really was a long journey from maize to corn that spanned many centuries.

  • Did you know that there was a distinct difference between maize and corn?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I knew they weren’t the same things, but I didn’t know how they differed


What do you think?

12 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


  1. There is a new breed of corn that they call Indian corn with the sprinkling of the purple kernels over the usual white kernels. It is slightly expensive than ordinary corn but so sweet when boiled.

    • Indian corn is actually many centuries old. I suspect that the reason it is new to your area is that most Americans just think of it as ornamental corn. I didn’t grow any this year, but I did grow it a couple of years ago. Indian corn is flint corn and when the kernels totally dry, they are extremely hard.

    • I’ve even had discussions with people who didn’t realize that maize is still grown and used. Then again, there are people that don’t realize that corn and maize originated in Mexico. It is grown and eaten worldwide.