Several beetles including Japanes beetles will clip the silk off. You can put pollen on the stubs to help fill the ear up.
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Stress can make organisms do strange things. Remember the frog DNA from Jurassic Park?TZ -OH6 wrote:Native corns do that stuff all the time, so it might be a trait of that heirloom if it had a lot of those short season varieties in its background. The frequency could be increased by inbreeding (seed repeatedly taken from a small plot) assuming that the variety generally doesn't do it very much. It took a lot of work to breed it out of the modern hybrid sweet and dent corns. That being said I got some kernels on a tassel of Burpees Delectable hybrid a couple of years ago. I suppose odd conditions could make it show up. My Painted Mountain, which is a mixed genepool of dozens of western native corns, does all kinds of freeky things.
I have one stalk that was originally a tiller, until the neighbor's soccer ball came over the fence and took out the main stalk. The tiller grew in its place and now has a half-sized cob growing straight out of the top. No tassels like yours, but still kinda odd looking.