The Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

P&PDL Picture of the Week for
June 4, 2007

Purple Corn Plants

Bob Nielsen, Extension Corn Production Specialist, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University

Purpling of corn plant tissue results from the formation of a reddish-purple anthocyanin pigments that occur in the form of water-soluble cyanidin glucosides or pelargonidin glucosides. A hybrid’s genetic makeup greatly determines whether corn plants are able to produce anthocyanin. A hybrid may have none, one, or many genes that can trigger production of anthocyanin. Purpling can also appear in the silks, anthers and even coleoptile tips of a corn plant.

What triggers the production of the anthocyanin in young corn early in the season? The answer is not clearly understood, but most agree that these pigments develop in young plants in direct response to a number of stresses
that limit the plants’ ability to fully utilize the photosynthates produced during the day. These stresses include cool night temperatures, root restrictions, and water stress (both waterlogged and droughty conditions).

It has been my experience that the combination of bright, sunny days and cool nights when corn ranges from V3 to V6 in development (3- to 6-leaf collar stages) most commonly results in plant purpling. Hybrids with more anthocyanin-producing genes will purple more greatly than those with fewer“purpling” genes. In most cases, the purpling will slowly disappear as temperatures warm and the plants transition into the rapid growth phase (post-V6).

Click image to enlarge

purpling

purpling

purpling

purpling

purpling

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service