Unveiling the World of Corn Look-Alikes: 8 Plants That May Fool You

Have you ever stumbled upon a captivating plant that bears an uncanny resemblance to corn, yet lacks the tell-tale cobs? Perhaps you’ve come across one in a farmer’s field, your backyard, or a local park? Believe it or not, there are numerous plants out there that could easily deceive even the keenest eye. Today, we’ll explore the world of these corn look-alikes, delving into their similarities, differences, and ways to tell them apart from the real deal. So, hold onto your hats as we embark on this fascinating journey through the realm of corn and its imposters.

A Sneak Peek at the Look-Alikes

Here’s a quick list of 8 plants that share an intriguing resemblance to corn:

  • Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)
  • Johnson Grass (Sorghum halepense)
  • Sorghum Crop (Sorghum spp.)
  • Giant Reed (Arundo donax L.)
  • Quack Grass (Elytrigia repens)
  • Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus)
  • Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
  • Crab Grass (Digitaria spp.)

Unmasking the True Corn Plant

Corn, also known as maize, is a widely cultivated crop used for both human and animal consumption. The popular sweet variety, often hailed as sweetcorn or sugar corn, is cherished by home-growers for its high sugar content, hence the name. It is harvested in its immature stage, known as the milk stage, and frequently appears on our dinner tables as delicious corn-on-the-cob or canned kernels. On the other hand, field corn or maize is primarily grown as animal fodder and reaches maturity in the dent stage when the kernels have dried.

In late summer, identifying corn becomes a breeze. The plant boasts cobs enveloped in green husks, closely arranged around its towering straight stem. However, height alone isn’t a reliable determination factor, as corn varies in this aspect. Instead, focus on the narrow, opposing leaves that sprout from the stem all the way up. The mature plant’s stem can reach a thickness of 3-4 centimeters. As it flowers, long, pale yellow or green tassels emerge from the cobs.

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Corn is typically grown in densely spaced, uniform rows to maximize wind pollination and yield during harvest. If you encounter a corn-like plant at a different time of the year, without flowers or cobs, it’s worth observing it until summer. Keep an eye out for its blooming stage, as it aids identification and helps you decide whether to keep it in your garden or bid it farewell. For a more elaborate description of Zea mays, the scientific name for corn, explore this remarkable resource.

The Imposters Unveiled

1. Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)

Corn Plant

Unsurprisingly, the corn plant itself is one of the most prominent offenders when it comes to mistaken identity. Its long, drooping leaves closely resemble those of a young corn plant. While it can grow quite tall under the right conditions, reaching between 1.2-1.8 meters, it eventually develops bamboo-like brown stems, devoid of any tassel-like flowers or cobs. The leaves often showcase lengthwise stripes of lighter green or green-white hues.
For more information, check out this captivating resource.

2. Johnson Grass (Sorghum halepense)

Johnson Grass

Johnson grass, often deemed a weed in various regions of the United States, possesses a remarkable ability to thrive wherever it pleases. This grass, similar to corn, displays a striking resemblance in its seedling stage. To distinguish between the two, simply uproot the plant and inspect its roots. If you spot red-brown or black seeds, you’re dealing with Johnson grass. Another telltale sign is a vein running down the center of the leaf, which turns off-white near the base. Dive deeper into its characteristics here.

3. Sorghum Crop (Sorghum spp.)

Sorghum Crop

If you’ve visited the Southern or Midwestern regions of the United States, you may have come across sorghum crops. This grass, belonging to the same Poaceae family as corn, shares a comparable upright, leafy structure. However, sorghum diverges from corn in terms of functionality. It contains significant sugar content and is commonly grown for syrup production (sweet sorghum) or as livestock feed (grain sorghum or milo). While sorghum can grow tall, ranging from 1.5 to 3 meters, it differentiates itself through its slender, less luxuriant leaves. The distinct large tassels at the top of the plant replace the cobs found in corn. Discover more intriguing facts about sorghum here.

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4. Giant Reed (Arundo donax L.)

Giant Reed

True to its name, the giant reed towers over its surroundings, often exceeding an impressive height of 6 meters. With its long, sturdy stems and drooping leaves, it bears an unmistakable resemblance to cornstalks. Classified under the Poaceae family as a cane, this species tends to thrive in wet areas and riparian habitats rather than the drier locations preferred by corn. In late summer, the giant reed blossoms, displaying a magnificent long, purple-silver plume that rises above its foliage. Satiate your curiosity with further insights into this captivating plant.

5. Quack Grass (Elytrigia repens)

Quack Grass

Also known as couch grass, quack grass stands out as a persistent and rapidly growing species that spans a wide range. Often considered a weed in cultivated areas, its flat, long, drooping leaves can easily be mistaken for young corn plants. To discern between the two, pay attention to the texture of the leaves. Quack grass exhibits a hairy or waxy upper surface and a waxy underside, unlike the smooth leaves of corn. Growing up to 1.2 meters tall in clumps, quack grass boasts spikey flower heads during summer. Another reliable characteristic is its long, white rhizomes responsible for its successful spreading. Explore more about quack grass here.

6. Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus)

Giant Miscanthus

Rising in popularity as a biofuel, giant miscanthus represents a specially bred hybrid of two wild miscanthus species. This grass can reach astonishing heights of 3-4 meters within a single growing season. Unlike corn, giant miscanthus possesses woody, bamboo-like stems and even longer, thinner leaves. Spotting it in the same field year after year indicates its perennial nature, distinguishing it from corn. Immerse yourself in the world of giant miscanthus by diving into more details here.

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7. Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum)

Pearl Millet

Pearl millet, a widely grown crop, finds great use as a hay crop or as animal fodder due to its excellent drought resistance. This grass reaches heights between 1.5 to 3 meters and, prior to flowering in the summer, closely resembles corn with its lush, drooping leaves and closely spaced bunching characteristic. However, pearl millet differentiates itself through long spikes that bear cream-white grains when mature. Notably, it produces several stalks from a single central plant, an attribute absent in corn. Discover more fascinating facts about pearl millet here.

8. Crab Grass (Digitaria spp.)

Crab Grass

This invasive grass, often found in lawns and cultivated areas, can be easily mistaken for young corn seedlings. Growing close to the ground, crab grass sprouts green stems with long, drooping leaves on either side. To distinguish it from young corn, pay attention to the plant’s tendency to sprout multiple stems from its base. Mature crab grass leaves measure only around 12 cm, significantly shorter than those of corn. Moreover, crab grass does not produce cobs or tassel-like flowerheads. Should you encounter crab grass invading your lawn or cultivated area, consider pulling it up by hand or maintaining a healthy lawn to outcompete its growth. If the problem persists, opt for organic herbicides to minimize the environmental impact. For a deeper understanding of crab grass, explore this resource.

Closing Remarks

If you’re still unable to identify the captivating plant that resembles corn, fret not! Reach out to us, and we’ll gladly assist you in unraveling the mystery. The world is teeming with crops and wild grasses that bear a striking resemblance to corn. Remember, observation during the flowering and seed-setting stages in summer remains the key to distinguishing between a corn look-alike and the genuine corn plant. We hope you’ve relished this journey through the world of corn and its deceptive counterparts!