Why Does Corn Have Hair? (And What You Can Do With It)

If you grow your own corn or buy fresh ears of corn, you’re going to notice that there is some hair on top of it. The hair on a corn cob is also known as silk, as it has the same soft, silky feeling. By the time your corn gets to the table as a delicious buttery side to your meal, the silk would have been removed. It is, however, a vital part of the growing cycle of corn.

Corn has hair to facilitate the pollination process. The male tassels at the top of the corn plant drop pollen downwards. As it falls, the hair, also known as silks on the top of the female cobs catch the pollen. Each kernel is attached to one piece of silk. Every kernel must be pollinated for it to grow.

Let’s learn more about this process and what uses there are to corn silk, which are surprisingly many.

Every kernel is a seed waiting to be pollinated

Your corn plant has two sections – a male and a female. The tassels at the top are the male parts of the plant. The corn cobs that grow lower down are the female parts of the plant.

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Each cob of corn can hold between 400 to 600 kernels, and each kernel is attached to a strand of silk. The silk stands lie inside the husk where they are protected from the elements. They extend up the body of the cob to the top. At the top, you will see a mop of silky hair.

These hairs are sticky and are waiting to catch the pollen that falls from the male tassels. Wind will cause the pollen to fall and be blown around where it will be caught by the silky hairs. When this happens, the kernel is pollinated and will grow plump and healthy. Kernels that are not pollinated will not grow.

How do you know if your corn is pollinating well?

Pollination starts when the tassels have large dangling anthers and the corn cobs have full tufts of hair. The pollination process lasts for around 10 days.

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It is easy to see whether your corn is pollinating properly.

  • During the pollinating time, remove a cob from its stalk.
  • Gently take off the husk that is protecting it, without disturbing the silk.
  • Hold the cob horizontally and shake off the silk. You will see that most of it falls off quite easily.
  • Silks that fall off show that the kernels attached to them have been pollinated. The silk falls off because it is no longer needed.

If you look closely at the corn, you may see that some kernels are sunken in and are not growing. They will still have the silk attached to them. These are kernels that have not been pollinated.

A healthy cornfield will have cobs that pollinate fully, and each kernel will grow. These are the healthy corns of cob that you want to use.

Of course, with the above method you can random-check if there’s pollination, but a cob removed from the stalk is a cob wasted.

What should I do if my corn is not pollinating?

If you are growing corn in your garden, you may notice that it is not pollinating properly. Large commercial fields of corn pollinate more profusely because there are simply more plants sending out pollen into the air.

You can help your plants by assisting the pollination process. Try to do this in the mid to late morning when the plant is shedding fresh, high-quality pollen.

  • Take a large flat tray and hold it under the tassels.
  • Gently tap the stalks. This will cause the pollen to fall and accumulate in your tray.
  • Using your fingers, sprinkle small pinches of the pollen onto the silk of the cobs. You will also create free-floating pollen that will very likely land on the silky hairs.

Another method is to cut off a branch filled with tassels. Then, use it as a wand to brush pollen onto the silk.

When does silk appear on the corn?

Silk will appear during the pollination process. This process happens about 60 days after the corn seedlings emerge from the ground.

You will notice that the corn cobs begin to form when your plant is about 4 feet tall. As they grow longer and larger, silk will appear at the top of the husks.

The silk can grow at a rate of up to 1.5 inches per day. It grows for around 4 to 8 days and then stops. Your corn is ready for harvesting about 20 days after the first silks appear.

Why does corn silk turn brown, red, or pink?

Once the kernels are pollinated, the silk is no longer needed. Each piece of silk will separate itself from its kernel. It will then slowly dry up, turn brown, and fall off.

Depending on the type of hybrid corn you are planting, you may find that your corn silk turns a bright red. Popcorn hybrids can produce silks that are pink or purple. Despite these fun colors, all silks turn brown after they have dried up.

Is corn silk edible?

Corn silk is edible. Commercially, it is usually dried and then used to make herbal teas. At home, you can make your own corn silk tea by following these easy steps:

  • Boil a kettle of water, or boil a pot of water on the stove
  • Rinse out your teapot with hot water
  • Wash your corn silk under running water
  • Place a 1/4 cup of corn silk into the teapot
  • Add 1 cup of boiled water
  • Close the teapot and allow it to steep for 10 minutes
  • Strain the tea into your glass mug and enjoy

If you’re very health conscious, you will appreciate that corn silk contains essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamins B2, C, K, tannins, and flavonoids. It also contains natural fiber.

Corn silk has been used through the ages as a natural diuretic to flush toxins and excess water out of the body. It can be used for bladder infections, kidney stones, and to help with bedwetting. Ancient Chinese cultures used corn silk as a traditional medicine to control blood sugar levels.

What other uses are there for corn silk?

Apart from drinking corn silk tea, corn hair can be used in many of your daily health routines.

Do you want your hair to be as silky and soft as corn hair? Corn silk is used as a moisturizing agent in hair shampoos and conditioners. At home, you can make your own moisturizer. Steep fresh corn silk in water for 20 minutes, strain it into a spray bottle, and spray it onto your hair after washing. Leave for 5 minutes and rinse off.

By mixing corn hair extract with essential oils, you can create a paste that is great for softening skin, alleviating acne, skin rashes, and inflammation.

Corn silk is also made into herbal soaps that are soothing for people who suffer from skin allergies, skin boils, and rashes.

If you don’t fancy drinking corn silk tea, there is another very beneficial use for it. After you have harvested and removed the silk from your husks, you can put it into your home compost maker. It will add essential nutrients to your soil for the next planting season.

Happy harvest!


Sam is an outdoor enthusiast, who loves spending time in the garden and learning about animals. His motivating forces are his wife and 5 beautiful children. When he doesn't get it right, he will go and try again!

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