Is Corn a Type of Grass?

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Corn is a member of the grass family.
Corn is a member of the grass family. (Image: Chris Ted/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Occasionally a food isn’t what you think it is botanically, such as watermelons being vegetables despite their treatment as a fruit. Corn is in the produce and frozen vegetable sections, not to mention among the canned vegetables as well. Yet corn is actually a member of a grass family.

Identification

Corn, Zea mays, is a member of the grass family Poaceae, formerly known as Gramineae. Instead of being relatively short like wheat, corn grows into a tall stalk, up to 20 feet. Sweet corn, the variety that you eat fresh, is the result of a mutation that occurred in the 1800s.

History

The theoretical ancestor of corn is teosinte, a Mexican grass that also may have given rise to other edible grasses such as Job’s tears. Palomar College says the grass was selectively bred for “many thousands of years” in order to transform the individually encased grains into the modern ear of corn.

Relatives

Poaceae includes grains as diverse as wheat, sorghum, oats, rye and rice. All form stalks of varying heights, and Texas A&M University says each contains something called an intercalary meristem, which is what allows the grass to continue growing even after it’s been cut down through grazing or mowing.

References

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