Late-season purpling in corn
Issues with purple coloration of corn plants sometimes occur about mid-August or later. It is perhaps more common for purple coloration in corn to occur early in the season, often a result of a phosphorus deficiency or cold temperature stress.
When purple coloration occurs later in the season on the leaf, stem, husk, silk, or anther tissues, this can be related to the production and accumulation of a pigment called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is derived from another pigment, “anthocyanidin,” that is comprised of a sugar-like molecule. The accumulation of anthocyanin occurs when the plant is not capable of translocating sugars to different plant organs.
The late-season purple coloration phenomenon takes place when photosynthetically active tissues of the plants are acting as sources of sugars, while the sinks (ears – when present) are not utilizing sugars as fast as the sugars are being produced. When this happens, the flow of sugars within the plants is disrupted and the sugars can accumulate in various areas of the plants, causing an unusual purple coloration. This could be a result of several different factors:
Environment-by-genetic interaction: There may be a specific hybrid response to environmental conditions, such as cool nights followed by sunny days, causing a buildup of sugars. The presence or absence of the genes associated with the production of anthocyanin is specific to certain hybrids.
click image to zoom Restricted root development: Restrictions in root growth, which may be due to several different factors -- such as drought stress, saturated soils, soil compaction, cool temperatures, herbicide injury, insect feeding, or shallow planting -- may cause a reduced demand for sugars, thus increasing purple coloration. This situation is more likely to occur early in the vegetative stages.
Poor ear development or barren plants: Ear development may be impaired by any number of factors (biotic and abiotic stresses), causing a disruption in the demand for sugars from photosynthesis. Barren plants, when ears are not present, tend to show this purpling in leaves and stem organs. This can occur at almost any reproductive stage of the crop season.
click image to zoom Regardless of the specific factor that causes anthocyanin accumulation, the production of the purple coloration is associated with some kind of restriction in the utilization of carbohydrates produced during photosynthesis.
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