Perhaps it's not quite as accurate as a fingerprint in people, but if you're trying to sort out hybrids in a test plot without a plot map, one tool that you can use is the shape and overall appearance of the tassel. Not every tassel is created in exactly the same way. In fact, Dave Nanda, president of Bird hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio, and consultant for Crops Illustrated during the plots phase of the project, says that the size and shape of the tassel is strongly tied to the hybrid.
This principle was front and center last season when tassels of the two hybrids Nanda selected for trials for population, high yield, and row width , and A and B hybrid as designated in the studies, turned out to have entirely different tassel types and structures. He paid no attention to tassel when making the selection- it just was a difference in traits that came along with the pair of hybrids he selected for the studies for agronomic reasons.
One hybrid featured a fairly slender, long tassel with minimal branches. It typically had about four or five sub branches coming off the main branch. The second hybrid, however, was of the bushy type, Instead of a long-slender tassel, it featured a bushy tassel, with up to a dozen spikes feeding out from the center stem.
It certainly made it easier to confirm that the plots were correct and that the right rows were being harvested near the end of the season, Nanda recalls. This trait stays with the hybrid all year, and is even more noticeable once leaves wither back and the tassels are more visible, typically very near to harvest.
Nanda is not saying that one type is better than another. He's just saying that it's another trait of corn plants that can vary. When hybrids are selected for various traits through the plant breeding process, other traits come along. If the traits that come along are not detrimental to yield or performance, then there's no reason to select against them and exclude them from the hybrid.
What's important at this time of year is that tassels develop, whatever their shape, and shed pollen at the proper time. There needs to be a nick with the silks emerging from the ear shoots to make sure that pollination occurs properly. As long as this occurs, there are typically far more than an ample number of pollen grains available to complete fertilization of each corn silk, no matter which type of tassel the plant possesses.