Is it true that each strand of silk on an ear of corn represents a kernel of corn?

Yes, but only if pollen falls on the silk. Otherwise, a kernel does not develop.

A corn plant produces corn silk surrounding each ear about two months after the plant emerges from the ground. The plant matures after about four months.

Tassels, the male part of the plant, emerge at its apex and shed pollen for a week or two, fertilizing the individual silk strands below. The silk strands grow a little more than an inch every day and continue to grow until they are fertilized.

Pollination occurs when the falling or wind-borne pollen grains are caught by these new moist silk strands. A captured pollen grain takes about twenty-four hours to move down the silk to the ovule, where fertilization occurs. The ovule then develops into a kernel.

Generally, two to three days are required for all silk strands on an ear to be exposed and pollinated. Ovules that are not fertilized will not produce kernels and will eventually degenerate.

Stressful conditions, including lack of moisture, tend to dry the silk strands and pollen grains, usually resulting in a nubbin, or an ear with a barren tip.