What Are Corn Tassels?

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Few vegetables are more ubiquitous in the summer than sweet corn (Zea mays). Each corn plant produces bisexual flowers that must be pollinated to produce ears. The corn tassels house the male part of the flower, which produces pollen to fertilize the female flowers in the ear shoots. They form roughly three weeks after the seedlings sprout, and will fully emerge by the time the plant reaches its full height, at which point pollination can occur.


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Under ideal conditions, corn tassels serve their role as pollinator and diminish once the female flower is fertilized. However, the tassels sometimes fail to properly form, which allows their female characteristics to emerge and create a problem called "tassel ears." Tassel ears are corn tassels that form rudimentary kernels like an ear of corn but without the protective husk. Such ears are not suitable for eating and should be removed to direct the plant's energy back toward more viable ears.

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