By Dave Nanda, Director of Genetics and Technology for Seed Consultants, Inc.
Corn plants react to different environmental conditions in different ways. Sunlight is the most important element needed by the plants for growth besides water, nutrients and heat. The plants know early on how much elbow room they have to spread their “wings” or leaves. At the seedling stage, the roots are too small and the leaves are not long enough to touch the leaves of other plants yet. So how do they know? When sunlight hits the green tissue or the chlorophyll of the leaves, it reflects back certain wavelengths.
The reflectance of the infrared component of the sunlight from the chlorophyll indicates how close other plants are. It does not matter whether they are other corn plants or weeds in the neighborhood. It just tells them that have competition for sunlight and they must grow faster or taller than their neighbors in order to survive and flourish.
As they grow depending on heat units, water and nutrients availability, they start to react to their growing conditions and plan how they can produce the maximum number of offspring. During the rest of their life, the plants are constantly adjusting to the environment. In fact there are five distinct stages when corn plants decide what to do to make the maximum number of viable progeny.