Glass Gem Corn: The Crown Jewel of Heirloom Seed Varieties

Updated on April 23, 2019
microfarmproject profile image

Kari Spencer is a Master Gardener volunteer and a local gardening and homesteading speaker. Her family operates The Micro Farm Project.

Though it might initially look like a trick of Photoshop, glass gem corn is indeed a very real, non-GMO variety of corn that boasts a brilliant array of different colors.
Though it might initially look like a trick of Photoshop, glass gem corn is indeed a very real, non-GMO variety of corn that boasts a brilliant array of different colors. | Source

When you consider corn, what comes to mind? A common yellow vegetable? A healthy snack? Or a crop that is 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!

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 6 feet tall.

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. A part-Cherokee man is in his mid-80s from Oklahoma, Carl 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 initially remained part of Greg's private seed collection that he shared periodically with others with the intention of keeping the variety alive. It may not 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 did not foresee 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. (Though Greg recommends planting at least 300 seeds at a time to maintain the large diversity of colors in your crop's gene pool.)

A few private individuals are just now beginning to offer seeds for sale, however. As individuals begin to grow this variety and it becomes more common, hopefully, the seeds will become more widely available to the public.

Note: You can learn more about glass gem corn and its history at Mother Earth News.

Attempting to get onto the long waiting list at Seeds Trust is one of the few ways that you can hope to obtain some seeds of the amazing glass gem corn.
Attempting to get onto the long waiting list at Seeds Trust is one of the few ways that you can hope to obtain some seeds of the amazing glass gem corn. | Source

What Gives Glass Gem Corn Its Rainbow Colors?

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 a brilliant display of agricultural biodiversity and the beauty of nature.

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 you choose to grow sweet corn, grinding corn, or ornamental corn, following these guidelines will help to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Where to Plant Your Seeds

  • 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 kernel formation. Though corn is pollinated by wind, provide protection from strong winds that may damage the stalks.
  • 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.

How to Plant the Seeds

  • 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.
  • Choose a short season variety if your warm growing season is fewer than 100 days. Corn does not transplant well. But if you start a long season variety indoors, you can transplant it carefully to avoid disturbing the roots.
  • Plant the seeds directly in the ground when all danger of frost has passed and the soil warms up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, 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.
  • Plant seeds 1" deep, three 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.

How to Care for Your Plants

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

How to Harvest Your Corn

  • When corn silks appear, wait 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 one 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 microfarmproject

Thanks for Stopping By!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      6 years ago from USA

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

    • Magda2012 profile image


      7 years ago

      the glass gem corn is so beautiful! Love it !

    • profile image


      7 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. :)

    • profile image


      7 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

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image


      7 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!

    • CoolFool83 profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 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 :)

    • profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      7 years ago

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

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful corn :) Thanks for sharing on Wildcrafting Wednesday!

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      7 years ago from Ohio

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

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 

      7 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!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)