Botany professor Paul Weatherwax grew this sample of pod corn (Zea mays var. tunicata) in 1936 at the University of Indiana as part of his research on the origins of domesticated corn. In this unique variety of maize, a husk or glume covers each individual kernel. Pod corn was grown by Native communities throughout the Americas and has been documented at a number of archaeological sites. The first scientific description was by French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He suggested that this was the natural state of maize and that Paraguay was its native home. We now know that neither is the case. Scientists at Germany’s Max Plank Institute for Plant Breeding have determined that the husks result from a genetic mutation that causes leaves to form in the wrong place.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.