The story of “Glass Gem Corn” starts with a half-Cherokee, half Scotch-Irish farmer from Oklahoma named Carl Barnes. As a way to reconnect to his Native American roots, Barnes became interested in the ceremonies surrounding planting, harvesting, and honoring seeds. After earning a degree in Agricultural Education, he worked to isolate ancestral corn varieties which had meaning to the Native American tribes that had been relocated to Oklahoma back in the 1800s.
Barnes selected and saved seeds from the cobs that exhibited the most vivid, translucent colors. The particular rainbow seed that became the Glass Gem Corn came from a crossing of “Pawnee miniature popcorns with Osage red flour corn and also another Osage corn called ‘Greyhorse.’”
Barnes passed down his knowledge to Greg Schoen who had this to say about meeting him:
“I first met Carl at a native plant and herb gathering in southwest Oklahoma in the fall of 1994. Carl had brought his portable display cases full of ears of traditional corns, which included several curious-looking, four- and five-inch ears, some of which seemed to literally have the whole spectrum of colors. I knew from the start there was something magical in that seed and that I needed to get to know Carl better.”
It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish with genetics and selective breeding. This skill was a staple of ancient agriculture. Farmers have been choosing the most fruitful seeds to increase crop yields for generations. Carl Barnes had a slightly different goal in mind, but the technique is pretty much the same.
If you have any interest in trying to grow some Glass Gem Corn at home, you can actually purchase the seed at Native Seeds.
And you can read more about the rather fascinating origin story here.