Cherokee Gourdseed Corn
Zea mays subsp. mays
Origin: Virginia (Cherokee People)
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~100
Germination tested 12/2019: 98%
Life cycle: Annual
Cherokee Gourdseed corn is a representative of one of the first lineages of corn to arrive in what is now the United States. Once a popular Southern corn variety for grits and distilling, it is still much loved today by those who have tasted its particularly rich flavor. Kernels can also be ground into a delicious masa. The variety gets its name from the likeness of the kernel to the shape of a gourd seed, but it is also known colloquially as a “tooth corn.” Kernels are naturally thin and somewhat resemble long sweet corn kernels in shape and general appearance. Cobs tend to be flat and wide and have many more rows than typically seen in most other corn varieties (around 20). You’ll find the kernels are very easy to hand shell from the cob.
Like all corn, its lineage stretches back to Mexico. Gourdseed most resembles the older Pepitilla and Olotillo landraces of what is now Southern Mexico. Archaeological evidence from 400-800 AD in northern Colorado shows cobs with traits intermediate between Gourdseed and Pepitilla types. Pepitilla is so-named due to the seed’s shape being similar to squash seeds (pepitas). Gourdseed landraces were once grown over a wide range of the Southeastern US from Texas to Maryland, but by the 1940s were being replaced by higher-production hybrid field corn varieties like Reid’s Yellow Dent — and by the 1960s they were nearly extinct.
Cherokee Gourdseed corn has strong stalks resistant to lodging (falling over). It’s also resistant to European Corn Borer, which is increasingly problematic as conventional chemical-intensive agriculture continues to select for only the strongest borers. The plants are also resistant to ear worm infestation due to their thick husks.
This is a long season variety (130-140 days) and is best suited to the southern US, but it can be grown in more northerly climates with a longer dry fall, like western Oregon.
From the collection of Chris Homanics in Oregon, grown in collaboration with Seth Chancey of Louisiana.
GROWING TIPS: Direct seed after danger of last frost 1-2 inches deep. Rows could be 24-36 inches apart. Plants could be 8-12 inches apart.