Abnormal Corn Ear Development

Abnormal Ear and Kernel Damage


Ear initiation begins in a corn plant at the V5 growth stage (five fully expanded leaves with the leaf collar visible). Plants subjected to environmental and agronomic stress during this critical period can have abnormally shaped ears, damaged kernels, or very few kernels. Stress factors can include drought, temperature extremes, saturated soil, nutrient deficiencies, disease or insect injury, and pesticide applications. The malformations can be a combination of stress factors; however, the type of malformation can help determine the cause and provide information for future management, if possible.

Many times, the malformations are not discovered until harvest. Determining the cause at harvest may be difficult because the causal factor, such as insect feeding, is likely no longer present. Weekly scouting during the growing season can help identify the cause when it is occurring or present. Environmental causes such as drought and hail damage are the result of Mother Nature and unavoidable. Agronomic causes such as pesticide application timing, compaction, and plant population are manageable.  

Abnormal Ear and Kernel Damage Descriptions

To view images and descriptions, please click on the name of malformation.


1Thomison, P., Lohnes, D., Geyer, A., and Thomison, M. Troubleshooting abnormal corn ears. The Ohio State University. https://u.osu.edu/mastercorn/.

2Nielsen, R.L. 2007. Symptomology of arrested ear development in corn. Corny News Network. Purdue University. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/articles.07/arrestedears-0904.html.

3Nielsen, R.L. (Bob), Wise, K., and Gerber, C. 2008. Arrested ears resulting from pre-tassel applications of pesticide & spray additive combinations. Corny News Network Articles. Purdue University. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/articles.08/ArrestedEars-1209.html.

4Stetzel, N., Wise, K., Nielsen, B., and Gerber, C. 2011. Arrested ear development in hybrid corn. Diseases of Corn. BP-85-W. Purdue Extension. Purdue University. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/.

5Elmore, R.W. and Abendroth, L.J. 2006. Multiple ears per node: Iowa 2006 situation & hypothesis. Integrated Crop Management. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

6Nafziger, E. 2010. “Bubble kernel” in corn. The Bulletin. University of Illinois. http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=1387.

7Thomison, P. and Geyer, A. 2015. Abnormal corn ears (poster). ACE-1-15. The Ohio State University Extension.

Web sources verified 8/2/21.    7005_S7

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