Guns Germs & Steel Guns Germs & Steel Guns Germs & Steel
The Story Of... Corn

Corn, or maize (from the Native American, 'masa') is one of the most widely distributed food plants in the world – exceeded in acreage only by wheat. Corn is grown from 58 degrees north latitude, in Canada and Russia, to 40 degrees south latitude in South America, with a corn crop maturing somewhere in the world every month of the year. It is the most important crop in the United States, which produces about half the world's total tonnage.

Corn's wild ancestor, teosinte, is native to southern Mexico, and formed the staple of the earliest agricultural communities throughout the Americas. From its origins in central America, the crop spread up the western coast to northern America, and penetrated the jungles of Panama and Colombia to reach the fertile terraces of the Inca Empire in the South.

Like other cereal crops, the process of domestication has fundamentally changed the genetic structure and behavior of the plant. Where ripe cobs of teosinte grew no larger than a human thumb, maize plants can now reach over eight feet in height, with cobs growing ten inches long.

The crop was seized upon by European colonists of the New World, and exported back to Europe and to other colonies beyond. Thanks to its preference for steady rains and its long growing season, maize has been particularly successful throughout southern and tropical Africa, where corn seed, or mealies, are pulped and boiled into porridge or mash. Corn also provides the basis for flatbreads around the world, including tortillas, hominy grits, corn flakes and, of course, popcorn.

Chicomecóatl, Aztec goddess of sustenance and corn, was one of the most ancient and important goddesses in the Valley of Mexico. Often portrayed as the wife of corn god, Centéotl, Chicomecóatl was portrayed with a red-painted face, wearing a distinctive rectangular headdress of red paper and holding a double ear of corn in each hand.

Where to next?

Get more stories about crops including Wheat, Rice, or Sorghum.



- Wheat
- Rice
- Corn
- Sorghum

- Cattle
- Goats
- Sheep
- Pigs
- Llamas
- Horse
- Zebra

- Smallpox
- Malaria

- Steel
- Writing

- Latitude and Climate
- Shape of the Continents
- Cities and Civilizations

Home Variables The World The Show About the Book Resources Educators Guns, Germs and Steel Guns, Germs and Steel