About one year ago, my research took an unexpected turn & I found myself studying maize. For better or worse, I was here, surrounded by corn & by people who seemed to be obsessed with it. At first, I didn’t “get it” because to me, corn was corn was corn. It was yellow and green and covered vast swaths of the Midwest. Anyone who studies maize landraces, however, knows that this is not a very generous archetype.
Landraces are varieties of crops that have been bred by farmers through artificial selection outside of the formal breeding sector and are often associated with a particular agroecosystem and cultural heritage.
The lab I recently joined (GEMMAlab) studies maize landraces to ask fundamental questions about evolution and adaptation, knowledge that we can then apply to practical applications in breeding and conservation. In many ways, our lab’s research exists in sharp contrast to my initial assessment of the crop, and after a season working in the nursery, I am now convinced that maize is far more beautiful than my mental archetype gave it credit for. Of the many varieties growing in our nursery, we harvested cobs with kernels that were shiny and red as rubies, and others that were pink and purple and looked like they belonged in a candy shop. Further searching into international collections online revealed cobs from Oaxaca that were jade green and blue, cobs from Peru that looked like cream-colored pine cones with purple speckles, and still others that are pitch black when harvested and magenta when milled.
The variety of colors and shapes seems endless, and I could wax poetic about how wrong I was that corn is just yellow and green. Instead, I wrote an R package inspired by the colors and cobs I’ve seen. This collection of color palettes is not perfect nor complete, and I will continue to add to it as I come across more cobs I would like to document and share. In the meantime, I hope you find this package to be useful, colorful, and fun.
I have not yet released the package to CRAN, but intend to do so soon. For now, please download directly from github using:
library("MaizePal") # See all palettes names(maize_palettes) #>  "Anthocyanins1" "Anthocyanins2" "RubyGold" "Sweetest" #>  "GlassGem" "PodCorn" "HighlandMAGIC" "MaizAzul" #>  "JimmyRed" "FloweringTime" "HopiBlue" "Painted" #>  "MaizMorado" "OaxacaGreen"
library("ggplot2") ggplot(mtcars, aes(factor(cyl), fill=factor(gear))) + geom_bar() + scale_fill_manual(values = maize_pal("GlassGem"))
The above picture is of a mapping population that our lab is currently working with, as a part of the Genetics of Highland Adaptation in Maize project. The parent landraces of this population are from highlands fields in Central and South America (Sabanero, Bolita, Connor, Pising, Azul, Mishca, Cpunti, and Palomero)
Our summer nursery at the Central Crops Research Station in NC
Thank you to Karthik Ram of Wes Anderson Palettes for permission to borrow & scrapbook their code into MaizePal. Additional thanks to my old lab-mate Eddie Marques for initially suggesting this idea and to my new PI & lab-mates, Rubén, Fausto, and Allison, for enduring my endless requests for opinions on colors.