Tillers are used to steer boats. Tillers are used to plow the soil. But the word tiller can also refer to a type of lateral shoot that grows at the base of corn and other grass or cereal grains (Poaceae).
Tillers are a form of vegetative reproduction.
Tillers are often seen in barley, oats, and wheat. When they occur on corn plants, they are frequently called “suckers.” Children were traditionally sent into the fields to remove corn tillers. But was this really necessary?
Grass family growth
Corn and other grass plants generally send up central stalks with leaves wrapped around that main stem. Sometimes, new branches start growing from the lower five to seven stalk nodes, or from below ground. These "daughter plants" are clones that are able to grow into independent plants with their own root system, leaves, nodes and internodes, and even their own ears (female flowers) and tassels (male flowers).
When this type of new growth occurs higher up the stalk, they tend to grow into ear shoots which are morphologically different from tillers. Ear shoots have shorter internodes, smaller leaves, and they always terminates in an ear, rather than a tassel.
Tillers can sometimes get confused as they grow, terminating with a flower that is both male and female. These are known as tassel-ears.
Research has shown us that tiller development indicates optimal growing conditions. Abundant water, sunlight and nutrients create a situation in which the plant has enough reserves to invest in tiller development. While tillers may compete with their parent plants, they usually don’t have enough of a growing season to develop harvestable ears.
Tillers can also occur in response to damage. When the main stalk is damaged early in its development, whether through insect or herbivore feeding, frost or hail, or mechanical injury, tillers can take over and may even develop harvestable ears, though this is rare.
In most cases, tillers have little or no effect on crop size. But if your kids are driving you nuts this summer, you can still send them out to remove tillers.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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