When a half-Cherokee man wanted to keep his heritage alive, he found and grew all of the rare, indigenous types of corn he could find. It looked like a “glass gem” corn when they came together. It sparkles with every colour in the rainbow.

Photo Credit: Greg Schoen


You’ve seen the picture of that little ear of corn with the translucent and jewel-coloured kernels. It has a story. The man who brought “glass gem” corn to the public wrote: “It and its kind from a very colourful gene pool share this story.”

Glass gem corn made its debut in the world in 2012 when a picture of it on Facebook went viral. Its history goes back much further than that.

A few decades ago, an Oklahoma farmer named Carl Barnes became interested in learning more about his Cherokee roots. He was half Cherokee and half Scottish-Irish. So, as part of that, he started looking for rare or old corn and grew it in his garden.

Carl Barnes

Over time, he started to see old types of corn in his crops.

As he took them apart, he found that many of their genetic variants matched up with corn varieties lost too many Native American tribes, especially those who had been moved to Oklahoma in the 1800s, where they lived.

The elders of the tribes that had lost specific types of corn were able to learn about them again thanks to Barnes. This helped them regain their cultural identities.

“To them, the corn is literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they are,” says Greg Schoen, the man who took care of the glass gem corn after its owner, Barnes, died.

Barnes’ friendship with the tribe elders from all over the country led to them giving him a lot of other old corn seeds. He put them in his fields to ensure he had the best kernels and kept looking for and breeding the best ones.

In 1994, Barnes met a friend named Greg Schoen at a native plant meeting in Oklahoma.

In Barnes’ display, Schoen was amazed by the traditional ears of corn, especially the ones that “seemed to have every colour in the rainbow.”

Photo Credit: Greg Schoen

It was clear to Schoen right away that there was something special about the seed and that he had to get to know Carl better.

Barnes had tried a lot of different types of corn, but “to his recollection, the rainbow corn came from crossing Pawnee miniature corns with an Osage red flour corn and also another Osage corn called Greyhorse in the late 1980s,” Schoen said.

To show that Schoen was interested, Barnes gave him some rainbow seed. Schoen grew and spread the seed in his home state of New Mexico.

With Barnes’ permission, Schoen grew the little rainbow corn with wider yellow varieties, which he hoped would help him spread and strengthen its genes. He was correct.

This “rainbow corn” grew into its full potential “with each new year,” says the author.

Photo Credit: Greg Schoen

In 2009, it came to Schoen that he should give Native Seeds some of his best selections of the rainbow seed. Native Seeds is a nonprofit trying to save hundreds of indigenous crop seeds from the American Southwest and Mexico.

Another thing that Schoen did for Native Seeds was to give them many pictures of the rainbow corn for their records. One of the photos was called “Glass Gems,” and the name stuck.

When Native Seeds put a picture of “glass gem” rainbow corn on their Facebook page in 2012, it became an internet hit worldwide.

People in Kenya, Mexico, Israel, and India are now participating in it. It’s now growing around the world.

If you plant your own, you can help to keep alive the history of all the peoples the rainbow corn represents.

We think you should buy your glass gem corn seeds from Mama Bean Farm, which grows organic seeds from organic plants.

CREDIT: Mama Bean Farm

CREDIT: Mama Bean Farm

CREDIT: Mama Bean Farm



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