Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain at Smith

Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain

Maize is the largest production crop in the world and plays a central role in all of United States agriculture and food production. Explore the science of maize, one of the most significant crops to humankind for thousands of years, and why it continues to surprise us today.

For thousands of years, corn has been a staple in the diet of countless cultures. Today, corn is the largest produced crop in the world, and the United States is no exception – large scale agriculture in our country revolves around corn production. What’s so great about corn, though? How is it that the yellow, red, blue, and white kernels have persisted in their importance to humans?

Find an answer to this question (and many others!) at the Smith College Botanical Garden’s fall exhibit, Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain. Open through December 15th, 2013 at the garden’s Lyman Plant House, the exhibit features history and cultural significance of corn, as well as lots of information about changes that the grain has undergone – both naturally and as a result of genetic engineering.

While visiting the exhibit, families with younger students can focus on the history and use of corn throughout history…

Compare the corn that you buy or grow at home to the ears and kernels featured in the exhibit – looking for similarities and differences can help younger minds understand the slow, natural changes that have taken place over time. Learning about what corn used to be like can provide a concrete example of evolution; by illustrating the concept with something that kids are familiar with, families can provide an opportunity for their children to build connections to the idea. Educators can use this teacher-friendly guide to the evolution of maize.

For a more complex examination of the information, older students can learn about the controversial issues surrounding the genetic modifying of crops like corn. Much of the exhibit focuses on the use of genetic engineering in order to change corn crops to be better suited to grow in certain parts of the world, to yield more ears and kernels, and to resist disease. However, genetic modification of foods is currently a very controversial issue. Discuss your family’s stance on the topic before visiting, then discuss again after leaving – encouraging students to use the information that they learned from the exhibit is great practice for backing up an argument, something that they’ll need to do often throughout life!

Further information about the exhibit is available at the garden’s website or by calling 413-585-2740. The Lyman Plant House and Conservatory is open from 8:30am-4pm daily, and is located at 16 College Lane (on the Smith College campus) in Northampton.

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