Versatile and responsive to management, corn is grown throughout the world for everything from food to animal feed to fuel. A new use for corn could soon join that list, as researchers in China investigate the crop’s ability to induce “suicidal germination” in a devastating parasitic weed.
The weed – sunflower broomrape (what a name!) – devastates the sunflower crops in China. Sunflowers are a major source of oil.
But the weed is a parasite, lacking chlorophyll of its own. And it turns out that corn results in germination of the weed when it cannot survive.
The roots of the corn plant apparently produce high levels of a germination stimulant, forcing the weed to germinate when it is not developmentally ready, essentially killing its chances of spreading.
So it may very well be possible to incorporate corn plants into the sunflower fields as a way to naturally control the spread of a weed.
They get the sunflower oil and, in addition, also get some corn they can sell. A nice win-win for the farmers.