Have you ever walked through a garden or field and thought, “Hey, that looks just like corn!” only to realize it’s not corn at all? You’re not alone. There are some sneaky plants out there that resemble our favorite golden crop, and they’re worth getting to know. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of these corn look-alikes and discuss how you can tell them apart from the real thing.
The Doppelganger Duo: Dallisgrass and Johnsongrass
Dallisgrass (Paspalum dilatatum) and Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) are the top two culprits when it comes to corn impostors. Both are tall, robust grasses with broad, green leaves that can reach up to 6 feet in height. As they grow, their leaves develop a distinctive white midrib, which closely resembles the central vein of corn leaves.
Imagine you’re having a Sunday afternoon stroll, and you spot a tall, leafy plant with a white midrib waving in the breeze. You might be tempted to think you’ve stumbled upon a stray cornstalk. But, alas, it’s just dallisgrass or johnsongrass, putting on a great performance. One key difference is their flowers: both dallisgrass and johnsongrass produce panicles, while corn has tassels.
The Sassy Sorghum Sisters: Grain Sorghum and Broomcorn
Grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) and broomcorn (Sorghum vulgare var. technicum) are two more plants that love to dress up as corn. They’re members of the same family as corn (Poaceae) and share many similarities. Like corn, they have long, slender leaves and can reach impressive heights, often growing up to 10 feet tall.
You’re out picking wildflowers when you spot a tall plant with a dense, upright cluster of seeds at the top. “Aha, corn!” you think, only to realize that it’s actually grain sorghum or broomcorn. The easiest way to distinguish these corn copycats is by their seed heads: grain sorghum has compact, rounded seed heads, while broomcorn boasts feathery, drooping panicles.
The Green Zea Wannabes: Eastern Gamagrass and Giant Reed
Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) and giant reed (Arundo donax) are two more plants that look strikingly similar to corn. With their tall, sturdy stems and broad, green leaves, they can be found growing in diverse habitats, from wetlands to roadsides.
Picture this: you’re hiking along a riverbank, and you spot a tall plant with wide leaves, looking just like corn. But wait! It’s not corn; it’s Eastern gamagrass or giant reed. The telltale sign that you’ve found one of these corn copycats is their seed heads: Eastern gamagrass sports short, thick spikes, while giant reed has feathery, plume-like panicles.
The Not-So-Corny Cousins: Millet and Foxtail
Millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail (Setaria spp.) are smaller in stature than corn, but their resemblance can still cause confusion. With their green, lance-shaped leaves and thin stems, they can grow up to 5 feet tall.
You’re out birdwatching when you spot a cluster of plants with small, bead-like seeds. “Corn!” you exclaim, but upon closer inspection, you realize you’ve been tricked by millet or foxtail. While these plants may not be as tall as corn, they still manage to put on a convincing show. To tell them apart from corn, pay attention to their seed heads: millet produces dense, drooping panicles, while foxtail has distinctive, brush-like spikes.
The Rare But Deceptive Sudangrass
Sudangrass (Sorghum × drummondii) is another plant that likes to masquerade as corn. A hybrid of sorghum and a wild grass species, sudangrass has the familiar tall, green leaves and white midrib that you’d expect from a corn impersonator. It can grow up to 8 feet tall and is often used as a forage crop or in soil conservation efforts.
Imagine you’re exploring a new hiking trail, and you come across a group of tall plants with green leaves and a white midrib. You think you’ve discovered a patch of corn, but it turns out to be sudangrass. The giveaway is its flower: sudangrass has loose, open panicles, quite different from corn’s tassels.
Tips for Telling the Corn Impostors Apart
Now that you’ve met the top corn look-alikes, how can you tell them apart from the real deal? Here are some quick tips:
- Examine the seed head: Corn has tassels, while impostors have a variety of seed head types, including panicles, spikes, and plumes.
- Check the midrib: Corn leaves have a prominent central vein, but not all look-alikes share this feature.
- Note the height: Corn can grow up to 12 feet tall, but many impostors are shorter.
- Observe the habitat: Corn is typically found in agricultural fields, while look-alikes may grow in diverse environments, such as wetlands, roadsides, or wildflower meadows.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to spot the corn doppelgangers in the plant world. So the next time you’re out and about and encounter a plant that looks like corn, you’ll know exactly how to determine whether it’s the genuine article or a crafty impostor. Happy corn (and not-corn) hunting!