Tassel Ears in Corn

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  • Tassel ears are the common term for a tassel that has developed a limited number of kernels and maintains components of both reproductive morphologies.
  • Tassel ears appear commonly on tillers, often on plants possessing normal ears and tassels on the main plants.
  • The ears are produced at a terminal position on the tiller where a tassel would normally develop.
  • Tassel ears can be produced by tillers that form due to damage to the growing point of the main plant before the V6 growth stage.
  • Tassel ears may also be produced by the main plant, typically on plants that are stunted and spindly due to delayed emergence or uneven crop development.
  • This phenomenon often can be observed along edges of fields where early-season soil compaction or where saturated, wet soil conditions have contributed to plant stress.


  • Tassel ears are the result of a physiological abnormality when the tassel and the ear are present within the same structure.
  • A corn plant is monoecious, meaning that the male and female reproductive organs are contained in physically separate morphologies. The tassel is the male flower and the ear shoots are the female flowers, both originally initiating as single flowers containing both male and female reproductive structures.
  • During development the female flower component aborts in the tassel, and the male flower component aborts in the ear shoots, resulting in unisexual flowers.
  • Environmental triggers can cause a hormonal cascade resulting in male flowers retaining their female parts, and becoming tassel ears by developing kernels.
Corn exhibiting tassel ear, with the center spike possessing an ear-like structure.

Corn exhibiting tassel ear, with the center spike possessing an ear-like structure.

Management and Impact

  • Tassel ears do not posses a husk covering, so the unprotected kernels on the plant are exposed to pests and weather conditions. Grain usually cannot be harvested from tassel ears.
  • Tassel ears do not impact yield or corn health, since most plants producing tassel ears also contain healthy monoecious flowers that develop into regular ears.
  • Extensive research indicates that tillers have no appreciable influence on grain yield of the main plant.
  • Stunted or spindly corn plants that posses tassel ears are usually unhealthy as a result of other environmental influences, such as soil compaction and flooding.
  • Low plant density can promote tillering, resulting in greater occurrence of tassel ears.
  • Corn hybrids are known to vary in their tendency to produce tillers and, consequently, tassel ears.

Author: Nanticha Lutt

Carter, P. 2015. Corn Tillers: Causes and Influence on the Main Plant. Pioneer Field Facts, Vol. 15 No. 3.

Nielson, R.L. 2004. Tassel-Ears in Corn. Corny News Network, Purdue University.

Thomison, P.R. 1995. Corn Growth and Development – Does Tillering Affect Hybrid Performance? Ohio State University AGF-121-95.

Thomison, P.R. 2007. “Tassel Ears” in Corn. Ohio State University C.O.R.N. Newsletter 2007-27.


Photo - inspecting corn plants

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The foregoing is provided for informational use only. Please contact your Pioneer sales professional for information and suggestions specific to your operation. Product performance is variable and depends on many factors such as moisture and heat stress, soil type, management practices and environmental stress as well as disease and pest pressures. Individual results may vary.