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Glass Gem Corn: The Crown Jewel of Heirloom Seed Varieties

Updated on October 21, 2015

Can You Believe Your Eyes?

When you consider corn, what comes to mind? A common yellow vegetable? A healthy snack? Or a crop grown for livestock feed and fuel? How about a beautiful piece of art? That's what your impression may be the first time you see glass gem corn, a surprising variety which appears to be a cob full of gemstones of every color. This is no trick of Photoshop, but the most beautiful, and surprising, corn variety in the world!

Photo Credit: Greg Schoen, Seeds Trust via

Discover Magazine

Photo credit:  Discover Magazine
Photo credit: Discover Magazine

The Amazing History of Glass Gem Corn

Prior to 2011, glass gem corn was a variety that was undiscovered to modern agriculture, and it may have remained lost if not for a fortuitous twist of fate. A seedsman named Greg Schoen received corn seeds from his "corn teacher" Carl Barnes, who had spent years studying and working with corn varieties. Carl, a part-Cherokee man is in his mid 80s from Oklahoma, studied corn varieties extensively and reintroduced many ancient and traditional varieties that had been lost to Native Tribes.

Though Greg and his friend Jose Lucero get the credit for the first modern, large-scale cultivation of the variety, it remained part of Greg's private seed collection which he shared periodically with others with the intention of keeping the variety alive. It may have been introduced widely to the world had Greg not decided to move in 2010. In order to store and protect his precious seed collection, Greg entrusted several different samples of corn seed with Seeds Trust, a 25-year-old family owned heirloom and open-pollinated seed company, including the glass gem corn seeds.

In 2011, Bill McDormann, president of Seeds Trust, grew some of the corn that Greg had entrusted to them, with amazing results! Photos of the beautiful corn were posted on the internet, and they spread like wildfire. Unbeknownst to Bill, who had not known foreseen how gorgeous the crop would be and had not grown a large enough supply for sale, a public clamoring for the seeds was about to ensue.

Currently, there are few places to purchase glass gem seeds. The Seeds Trust has a waiting list, and currently sells only 50 seeds to each customer as seeds become available. A few private individuals are just now beginning to offer seeds for sale. As individuals begin to grow this variety and it becomes more common, hopefully the seeds will become more widely available to the public.

Sources of Glass Gem Seed Corn

Glass gem is non-GMO heirloom rainbow corn variety that actually comes in many colors. It is best used for cornmeal, as opposed to slathering with butter at the dinner table. It is also a marginally decent popping corn. It is a long season variety, requiring 110 days to reach maturity. The height of the stalks is roughly six feet.

Purchase seed corn on eBay, or get on the Native Seeds/SEARCH waiting list to purchase as they become available using the link below. Greg Schoen recommends planting at least 300 seeds at a time to maintain the large diversity of colors in your crop's gene pool. Currently, only 50 seeds at a time are sold to customers on the Natives Seeds waiting list, so purchasing more seed from other sources may be beneficial.

Native Seeds/SEARCH Waiting List

An Economical Grinder for Corn Meal or Flour

Glass gem corn makes a beautiful ornamental crop, but you will probably want to grind at least some of it for fresh corn meal or flour. This handy grinder will serve to grind corn, grain or nuts into meal or flour, and the price is very reasonable. This item also qualifies for FREE Super Saver shipping!

Photo credit:  Elie Ayrouth at FoodBeast.com
Photo credit: Elie Ayrouth at FoodBeast.com

Nature's Artwork

How do so many vibrant and diverse colors appear on a single ear of corn? The answer lies in an odd phenomenon of genetic inheritance that does not follow Mendel’s rules. Each kernel is actually a different corn plant (or the seed of one) with a unique mix of genes inherited from its parents. Diversity is increased further via transposons, or “jumping genes,” which are strands of DNA that move from place to place in the genome. When they land in a gene for pigment, the color of that cell is altered, producing kernels of a particular color that may be specked or streaked with a second color. The result is brilliant display of agricultural biodiversity and the beauty of nature.

The Origins of 'Carl's Glass Gems' Rainbow Corn - Mother Earth News

To Grow or Not to Grow?

Though lovely, glass gem corn is not a delicious variety of sweet table corn. Instead, it is more suited to grinding for corn meal or flour. Additionally, it takes up a lot of garden real estate to grow.

Would you love to grow glass gem corn, or would you rather grow sweet corn for the dinner table?

Yes, I would love to grow glass gem corn!

Yes, I would love to grow glass gem corn!

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    • Ben Reed 4 years ago

      I like both!

    • drcarl 4 years ago

      I'd grow BOTH! I tried to grow some heirloom dent corn here in Washington sent to me from our tribe in Oklahoma (Cherokee); not so good last year - maybe this year. The glass gem corn is beautiful! Thanks! (btw - the link to http://www.nativeseeds.org/ - a waiting list? needs repair) Best, ~drcarl

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      both

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      We don't typically grow corn, but that is so beautiful that we may need to start.

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      It is so beautiful, I was wondering if you could eat it when I was reading....good to know you shouldn't....thank you for linking up with Messy Moms Radio...I cannot wait to see what you will bring for us next Monday. Tell your friends to stop by too....much blog <3

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I would love to grow it if I could only find seed to buy! I have searched the net to no avail.

    • vegetablegardenh 4 years ago

      I would! In fact I just ordered some seeds!

    • JeffSawyer 4 years ago

      Got to see it first time very unique.Thanks for sharing it

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      It's gorgeous! I would definitely grow glass gem :)

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I agree, both

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      Both!

    • suepogson 4 years ago

      I love this corn but just con't grow it! I don't know why as I'm surrounded by corn fields (although of a different type). Normally taste is the decider for me but I'd love to have this just to look at. Your photos will have to do for me.

    • Avi Wolfson 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow amazing, I wonder how it tastes?!

    • microfarmproject 4 years ago

      Yes, I just ordered 50 seeds and can't wait to grow it in my summer garden.

    No, I'd rather grow sweet corn.

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      • anonymous 4 years ago

        Wow, that is beautiful!! God's creation is amazing, even something as simple as corn. I never such corn quite like that. Does it have more nutrients? Often I correlate the nutrients with the color, and this definitely has color!

        Thanks for sharing at A Humble Bumble :)

      Photo credit:  OrganicGardening.com
      Photo credit: OrganicGardening.com

      How to Grow Corn

      Though corn takes up a large amount of space in the garden, nothing beats biting into a freshly-picked ear of sweet corn or grinding your own meal for cornbread and tortillas. Whether your choose to grow sweet corn, grinding corn, or ornamental corn, following these guidelines will help to insure a bountiful harvest.

      Planting: Plant directly in the ground when all danger of frost has passed and the soil warms up to 60°F, which is necessary for seed germination. If the weather cools, spread black plastic on the planting area to help warm the soil, removing it as soon as the seedlings begin to appear. Choose a short season variety if your warm growing season is less than 100 days. Corn does not transplant well, but if you start a long season variety indoors, transplant it carefully to avoid disturbing the roots.

      Plant seeds 1" deep, 3 seeds per hole. Plantings should be no closer than 7" and no farther than 15" apart. Seeds will germinate in approximately 10 days. Thin seedlings to one plant per 15" by cutting unwanted seedlings off at soil level.

      When planning how much corn to plant, a general guideline is 10-15 plants per person who will be eating the corn. To extend your harvest, plant early, mid-season, and late types at the same time, or successively plant early varieties every few weeks. To avoid cross-pollination, keep different corn cultivars 400 or more yards apart. This is especially important for supersweet varieties. For most home gardeners, this means that only one variety of corn should be tasseling at any given time.

      Plant in full sun in richly composted soil. Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring copious amounts of nitrogen. Companion plant the area with nitrogen-fixing beans, clover or hairy vetch.

      Plant corn in blocks of at least three rows to promote good pollination and kernal formation. Though corn is pollinated by wind, provide protection from strong winds that may damage the stalks.

      Keep the bed free from weeds by mulching heavily around young stalks to prevent weed germination.

      Water corn on a regular schedule using a soaker hose or drip irrigation that waters at the soil surface. Do not spray plants from above, or pollen may be washed away from the flowering tassels. Drought stress during pollination will result in ears with sparse kernels, so keep an eye on your watering schedule to ensure that the plants are getting enough water during the hot, summer months.

      When the stalks are 6 inches tall, side-dress by digging a trench along each row,near the roots, and adding blood meal or another nitrogen source to the trench. Repeat this process when the stalks are about a foot high. It is not necessary to remove side shoots or suckers. Leave them alone to avoid damaging roots or stalks.

      Harvesting: When corn silks appear, count three weeks, and then start checking ears for peak ripeness. Carefully peel back part of the husk and pierce a kernel with your thumbnail. If the kernel spurts with a milky liquid, the ears are at prime ripeness. Immediately harvest the ears and rush them to the table, or blanch in boiling water for 1 minute and store them in the freezer. Ears on the same stalk may ripen a few days apart, so test each ear before you pick it!

      Leave ornamental corn, grinding corn and popcorn on the stalks to dry until you are ready to remove the stalks from the garden at first frost. If the weather is particularly wet, remove the stalks and allow the kernels to completely dry out in a cool, dry area.

      Seed Corn and Growing Guides on Amazon

      Amazon has a good selection of gardening guides and products. Super Saver shipping is FREE on orders of $25 or more.

      Dig Deeper!

      Learn more about glass gem corn and general guidelines for growing corn at the links below. If you have a related link or website that you would like me to include in this list, send me a message. Kindly link back to this lens from your site or article.

      I hope you have enjoyed reading about glass gem corn, and I would love to hear from you. If you have a related website or lens, feel free to post it here. Kindly link back to this lens from your website.

      Thanks for Stopping By!

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        • flicker lm profile image

          flicker lm 4 years ago

          Although I have a good-sized garden, I've yet to attempt growing corn. Around here, raccoons are a major problem. Some people are successful using electric fences to keep them out, but I'm not ready to set that up yet. Enjoyed reading your article!

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          Stephen Bush 4 years ago from Ohio

          Having grown up on a farm, it is hard to believe corn can look this good. SquidAngel Blessings.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Beautiful corn :) Thanks for sharing on Wildcrafting Wednesday!

        • Deadicated LM profile image

          Deadicated LM 4 years ago

          Totally awesome Lens and Information, Mother Nature is really amazing.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          @anonymous: Thanks for sharing this post on The HomeAcre Hop! This heirloom corn is gorgeous! Thanks for all of the tips on growing corn :)

        • Teapixie LM profile image

          Tea Pixie 4 years ago

          Fabulous article. I so wish I had space to grow corn. There is nothing like watching a kid chomp on a fresh cob of corn. You provide great instructions here.

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          CoolFool83 4 years ago

          Wow, this is a really interesting lense. Good job.

        • hntrssthmpsn profile image

          hntrssthmpsn 4 years ago

          I've been itching to get my hands on some of this beautiful corn for a while now, but these days I'm living right next to the sea, and corn fares pretty miserably in our salty, foggy, cool summers. Still can't help but look... so pretty with those jewel-tones!

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Kari that is too pretty to eat or grind! I'd have to string it and make a necklace. lol Thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful information with us at Transformed Tuesday. Hugs, Peggy

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          I don't think I'd grow it, but the variety is certainly beautiful, yes, like a piece of artwork. Thanks for sharing on Hearth & Soul Hop. :)

        • Magda2012 profile image

          Magda2012 4 years ago

          the glass gem corn is so beautiful! Love it !

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          Fay Favored 2 years ago from USA

          Kids could actually say, "Mom, this veggie is too beautiful to eat!"

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