Morphological Characterization and Classification of Open-pollinated Sweet Corn Cultivars

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
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  • 1 Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI 53706

Sweet corn is one of the most important vegetable crops in the United States, however the morphology and phylogeny of open-pollinated sweet corn cultivars has not been studied. Fifty eight open-pollinated sweet corn cultivars were characterized with thirty-four descriptors to provide information for breeders interested in broadening the genetic base of sweet corn. Principal component analysis and cluster analysis were performed to classify sweet corn cultivars based on morphology. Also, relationships among morphological variables in this set of cultivars were determined. The general ordination of cultivars followed an axis representing earliness, and plant, leaf, and tassel size, while ear and kernel attributes were less variable. The morphological variability among all of the widely used sweet corn cultivars, except `Country Gentleman', was not greater than the variability found among the `Golden Bantam' strains. Based on morphology, 52 of the cultivars could be considered as one race, which we propose be called `Northeastern Sweets'. These may be a subset of the race `Northern Flint'. Five of the remaining cultivars are from the north-central or southwestern United States and may represent races from those areas. The sixth cultivar is `Country Gentleman', a commercially important sweet corn cultivar. Due to the importance of `Country Gentleman' and the introgression of nonsweet germplasm into modern sweet corn, we believe that sweet corn should be defined based on its use as a vegetable and on the presence of one or more genes that increase sugar levels in the endosperm.

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