Gardening

Corn smut on sweet corn: It's not all bad news

While picking my sweet corn this year, I’ve noticed a higher than normal amount of ears with corn smut growths.

Corn smut is a fungal disease that infects all types of corn but sweet corn is most susceptible to it. The fungus invades the corn tissue and causes the corn plant to form a gall-like growth. We usually see these growths on the ears of the corn but they can also occur on the tassel and other parts of the plant.

It’s just about impossible to eliminate corn smut. The fungus can live year after year in the garden soil and will reinfect a sweet corn crop each season. Plus the spores of the fungus is easily carried by the wind from infected plants.

There is no spray or seed treatment for this problem. The usual control suggestion is to cut out the infected plants and burn them before the smut has a chance to form spores.

This year however, I’ve decided not to fight corn smut but instead embrace it.

Corn smut has a high yuck factor for most of us. This smut is past it's prime.

Corn smut has a high yuck factor for most of us. This huitlacoche is past it’s prime.

South of the border — I mean Mexico, not Ohio — corn smut is a delicacy. Since smut is a fungus, it is used much like mushrooms which are fungi too. Some people call it Mexican truffle, in Mexico it’s called huitlacoche. Mexican farmers, instead of destroying the infected plants, harvest the growths and sell them at a premium price.

My corn smut is past its prime — it’s filled with dried spores — so I didn’t have chance to try it yet. I have one more crop of sweet corn coming on and I’m looking forward to my huitlacoche harvest!

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.