On a corn plant, the tassel is the top most part of the plant. It is where the pollen is for pollinating other plants. In generations past, the farmers used to save some of their corn to use the next year as seed. But they don’t generally do that any more (not the large farms, anyway) because they found that cross-pollinating hybrid corn plants of different varieties give a greater yield.
Here is an explanation from Holloways Detasseling website
How does pulling the tops or tassels off do that?
Well, we don’t pull all of the tops off. The top of the corn plant (the tassel, remember?) contains the pollen that allows corn plants to reproduce. We pull the tassels from certain rows of corn, these are referred to as the female plants, and the pollen produced by the other rows, referred to as male plants and ones that are not detasseled (which are a different type of corn) cross pollinate with the rows that we have detasseled, the female rows. This produces the special seed corn that farmers want to plant.
My children have been detasseling in the summer. It is a 3 week season with a small window of opportunity to get the tassels off before the pollination begins. Every field is ready to pull the tassels at a different time. They go through the field once and then a day or two later, go through it again in order to pull the tassels that hadn’t fully emerged in the first pull.
This year, Micah (13) is detasseling. They get into the fields between 6 and 6:30 am and walk up and down each row pulling. It is often soaking wet (dew and they work in rain, just not lightning, and sometimes you walk through ankle deep mud), hot, sticky, buggy. The corn plants cut your skin, so you have to wear long sleeves and long pants. You are required to wear protective glasses and hats with mosquito netting and gloves. You might be in the field for a few hours or you might be there for 7-8. If there is work to do every day, you work every day until the fields are done.
It is grueling work, but for 12-15 year olds, to be able to earn ~$600 for 21 days of work, it is a good job. It also does a lot to teach diligence and hard work.
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