Crazy top earned its name. The top of the corn plant basically goes 'crazy' and puts on an ear, or at least tries to, where the tassel should be.
Dave Nanda, consultant for Seed Consultants, Inc., recently found a crazy top plant – just one – in a field of very good corn. That spot in the field was never flooded, but soils were saturated a couple of times early in the season.
The organism causing the disease usually infects the plant early in the season and is tied to very wet years, and often to ponding and flooding. In severe cases it can infect several stalks, but many times, as in this case, it's more of a novelty than a real threat to yield potential.
Nanda noticed that the cob on top of this plant had several kernels pollinated and developing. Sometimes the cobs are blank. It also had small tassel branches that emerged at the same point on the stalk as the cob. It was too late in the season to tell for sure if those tassel branches produced pollen. The ear could have been pollinated by pollen from surrounding corn plants.
"The point it makes is how badly corn plants want to make babies to procreate," Nanda says. "Like most things in nature, the goal of a corn plant is to reproduce. It doesn't care how much corn you harvest, it believes it is making babies, and it will do whatever it takes to make as many babies as possible."
In this case with the plant obviously sick and not normal, it still tried to make babies, Nanda says. The ear, although in the wrong place and not protected by husks, still accepted pollen and formed kernels. The fact that the plant also tried to put out a tassel shows just how hard it was trying to complete the reproduction process, he notes.