From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

MAIZE, or INDIAN CORN, (zea mays) The native country of this valuable grair remains still undetermined. It is usually attributed to America, where it was cultivated by the aborigines at the time of the discovery ; but no botanist has hitnerto found it growing wild in any part of the new continent; and most certainly it does not so exist in any portion of the territory Asia, or the north of Africa, till after the voyage of Columbus. It was unknown to the ancient Greek and Roman writers, and is not mentioned by the earlier travellers who visited China, India, and other parts of Asia and africa, and who were very minute in describing the productions of the countries which they visited. Notwithstanding these considerations, some authors have endeavored to prove that it was originally from India, and thence introduced through Persia to Africa. Others, again, have attributed its origin to the western coast of Africa. Like the other cerealia, it belongs to the natural family graminecd, being neither more nor less than a gigantic grass. It is annual and herbaceous. The root is fibrous; the stems rise to the height of from four to ten feet, and, like other grasses, are furnished with knots at intervals The leaves are alternate, sessile, sheathing at the base, and are slightly pubescent on their superior surface, and ciliate on the margin; they vary in length from one to three feet, by three or four inches in breadth. The male flowers are disposed on several spikes, which, together, form a large panicle at the summit of the stem. The female flowers are very numerous, sessile, and disposed in the axillae of the superior leaves, upon a common axis, which is surrounded with foliaceous sheaths or husks; the styles are very numerous, six to eight inches long, and hang down like a silken tassel from the extremity of the foliaceous envelope; the seeds or grains are rounded externally, angular and compressed at the sides, and tapering towards the base, and are disposed in several longitudinal series. A great number of varieties are cultivated, differing in the size, hardness, number and color of the grains, the form of the spikes or ears, and, what is a very important circumstance to the human family, in the time required to bring them to maturity. The grains in some varieties are violet or black; in others purple, white, or variegated; and sometimes grains of different colors are found on the same spike ; but the usual color is golden yellow. Some varieties require five months from the time of sprouting for the perfect maturity of the grains, while the period of six weeks is sufficient for others. Owing to this circumstance, this plant can be cultivated in a far wider range of climate than any other species of grain, not only throughout the tropical regions of the globe, but in the most north may be of short duration. It is usually ranked the third grain, in point of utility, next after rice and wheat; but the former of these can only be cultivated in the warmer, and the latter only in the temperate parts of the earth. Maize is now very extensively cultivated, not only in America, but throughout a great part ot Asia and Africa, and also in several countries of the south of Europe., as in Spain and Italy. In many of the provinces of France, it forms almost exclusively the sustenance of the inhabitants. In some parts of America, two crops are obtained in a season, but, as it is found to exhaust the soil very soon, it is usually planted upon the same piece of ground only aftej an interval of five or six years. It succeeds best in a light and slightly humid soil. The usual, though not the best modu of planting, is in little hillocks raised ai intervals throughout the field, to each of which is allotted five or six grains. Thesfc last, after being dipped in water, will oftek sprout after a lapse of five or six days , the young plants are liable to be injured by frost. In many countries, after flowering, the tops are cut and used for fodder for cattle, and a portion of the leaves stript also ; but this last operation should be delayed till near the time of maturity, which is indicated by the drying of the leaves and the hardness and color of the grains The spikes or ears are gathered by hand> and the husks, when perfectly dry, stript off, and, together with the stalks, laid by for winter fodder, while the ears are conveyed to the granary. The green stems and leaves abound in nutritious matter foi cattle, and in some countries it is cultivated solely for this purpose, especially after early crops of other vegetables; when planted for this object, it should be sowed very thickly. Corn, when well dried, will keep good for several years, and preserve its capability of germination. It is eaten in various manners in different countries, and forms a wholesome and substantial aliment. Domestic animals of every kind are also extremely fond of it. According to count Rumford, it is, next to wheat, the most nutritious grain. It is considered as too stimulating for the common food of, cattle, and is found to be more stimulating than any other kind of bread used by us. Mixed with rye meal, it forms the common brown bread of New England; mixed with water alone, it makes a very palatable species of extemporaneous bread. Ground very coarse and boiled, it forms theu hominy," which is so great a favorite at the south; and the fine meal boiled thick in water, is the " mush " of Pennsylvania and the " hastypudding " of the Eastern States. In the form of hulled corn or samp, the whole grains furnish a very palatable, although rather indigestible luxury. The stems contain sugar, and attempts have been made in France to extract it, but the modes hitherto devised have proved too expensive. In more southern latitudes, the experiment would, doubtless, be attended with more success; indeed, according to Humboldt, this branch of manufacture is carried on in Mexico. The ashes contain a large proportion of potash. Of the husks, a beautiful kind of writingpaper has been manufactured in Italy ; and when soaked in hot water, they make excellent mattresses ; a grayish paper may be made from all parts of the plant. From some information which has lately reached this country, it would seem that the native country of Indian corn has, at last, been ascertained. A variety has been obtained in Paraguay, in which each grain is surrounded by glumes, and this, according to the report of the Indians, grows wild in the woods.