‘Glass Gem’ Corn

Beautiful, multi-colored kernels make ‘Glass Gem’ corn one of the most distinctive cultivars, and it’s a heritage open-pollinated variety, too.

  • This colorful corn wheel exemplifies the many variations in the color expression of the ‘Glass Gem’ corn. Ear length in the photo shows a range in size from about 4-8 inches. This is some of the corn that was held back to use next year at Mer-Girl Gardens. The selected seed stock was chosen to represent as much of the diversity, vigor, strength, and beauty that the corn expressed.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Dried kernels of ‘Glass Gem’ corn display a wide variety of colors.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • International Harvester, hand-cranked corn sheller. It was new in 1900. It separates the kernel from the cob. Photographed on October 13, when the team was nearly finished shelling the dry corn.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • The ears have begun to develop in the cornfield approximately 75 days after planting. Ron says that by this time in the grow out, he was really amazed at the diversity of stalk height, which went from around 3-10 feet, and the stalk color ranged from purple to green. The shape of the stock was mostly round, but some were oblong, which would be apparent if one were to make a cross-cut.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • A photo of the ‘Glass Gem’ tassel. This was taken around the peak of full tassel and pollination, August 5, 2015. The first tassels appeared July 18 around 60 days after the May 18 planting, and the last tassel appeared around August 18, which made nearly 30 days from first to last tassel.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • A handful of ‘Glass Gem’ jeweled kernels. Ron and Debora, owners at Mer-Girl Gardens where the ‘Glass Gem’ seed was grown, say they feel very wealthy with handfuls of seed. Around 400 pounds of the seed were shelled and cleaned at the time of this photo on October 14, nearly 150 days from planting.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Close-up of the finished dry ears. They were photographed on October 9, at approximately 140 days from seeding.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Holly and Dyanna, visitors to the farm from the farmer’s market. They were so dazzled by the ‘Glass Gem’ corn they saw at the market that they wanted to come and be a part of the harvest. This photo was taken on October 15 and shows the last corn harvested from the field, around 150 days since it was planted.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Oddities in ear development. There were 2 and 3 ears developing from the same base at the same time. This is different than many corns which would make 2 or possibly 3 ears, but all at different heights up the stalk. The photo was taken around the end of August, 2015, around 100 days from seeding.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

Corn. What do you think of when you hear the word? Bright yellow...on the cob? Perhaps a family gathering or late summer picnic. Popcorn. That familiar yellow or white color. So, when someone hands you a rainbow-hued ear, so vibrant and beautiful that you question its natural origins and edibility, it has a way of completely blindsiding you, throwing off any pre-conceived notions of what corn should be and what it should look like.

Enter the ‘Glass Gem’. Never before have I felt so humbled by corn, so in awe, as I run my fingers along the rows of dried kernels, admiring the deep purples, the golden ambers, the pink and the blue. Indeed, from this humble ear sprouted the desire to learn the origins of this incredible plant. To know the story of these magic seeds and how they came to be, sitting prettily in my hand, wanting to feel the cool smoothness of the kernels along the cob. Caring for it. How does it like its soil? How much water is ideal? Where can I get some?! I NEED that corn!!

… And thus it starts. The ‘gateway’ corn.

What is now known as ‘Glass Gem’ or ‘Carl’s Glass Gem’ started with Carl Barnes, a collector of corn with half Cherokee, half Scotch-Irish ancestry. “As a youth, Carl began to seek out his Cherokee roots, exploring the knowledge of his own ancestors and of Native American traditions in general, by learning from his grandfather. Much of this quest centered on the ceremonies surrounding planting, harvesting, and honoring seeds,” says Greg Schoen — a student of Carl Barnes and successor of Barnes’ work on the ‘Glass Gem’ corn — in his article The Origins and Journey of ‘Carl’s Glass Gems’ Rainbow Corn.

Barnes worked with crossing many types of older corn varieties and noticed that traditional expressions of the corn which had been “lost” over time began to re-emerge in his work, the hidden genes becoming prominent once again. He worked to reintroduce these ancient corn lines to the elders of the tribes in Oklahoma, and “this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural identities. The corn is, to them, literally the same as their bloodline, their language, and their sense of who they are,” says Schoen. Some of the ‘rainbow corn’ that Barnes had been working with was a cross of Osage corns and Pawnee miniature corns, with a shorter ear and more pastel colors. As the friendship between Barnes and Schoen grew, Barnes gifted Schoen with a handful of the corn kernels to grow himself. Schoen remarks, “I was honored and grateful to receive it … at that moment it came to me loud and clear: ‘This seed is going to change things.’”

Schoen went on to grow the rainbow corn on land in Santa Clara Canyon, New Mexico, where he encouraged additional crossings between the rainbow corn and vigorous Southwestern strains because he felt that the “new blood” from the field corns would strengthen the rainbow corn’s gene pool. The result was incredibly vibrant kernels on a broader, bigger cob. As he distributed photos of the corn, he used various names, but ‘Glass Gem’ was the one that stuck.

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