The Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

P&PDL Picture of the Week for
September 6, 2004

Corn Pollen and Silks

Bob Nielsen, Extension Corn Production Specialist, Purdue University

Sex in the corn field is an oft' discussed topic down at the coffee shop during mid-summer. Most folks, though, have not taken the time to closely look at the important "players" of the pollination process. Corn pollen is produced in the anthers of the tassel (the corn plant's male flower). Pollen grains are very small and it is estimated that literally millions of them are produced on a single tassel. The silks of the ear are connected to the ovules on the cob and, together, represent the female flower of the corn plant. Silks produce many tiny hairs or "trichomes" long their exposed lengths. Pollen grains are "captured" by the silk hairs where they "germinate" and develop a pollen tube that penetrates the silk. The pollen tube, containing the male gametes, develops down the inside of the silk to the ovule, where fertilization occurs with the female gametes to produce a kernel of grain.

Click image to enlarge

Freshly exserted anthers on tassel

Pollen size in relation to dime

Pollen captured by hairs of silks

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service