Recognized as a native landrace by United States agriculturists prior to the Civil War, King Phillip corn (Zea mays) has been grown and developed by the Wampanoag Native American community for centuries. Metacom, the Wampanoag sachem, or leader, was known as King Philip among settlers in the Massachusetts Bay, and it is after him that the corn is named.
Traditionally the corn was used to make Indian meal fritters, corn dodgers, and Indian Pudding. This iconic variety was recognized by settlers as a great gift from the Wampanoag, and it’s cultivation and improvement soon became an obsessive concern of 19th century corn breeders. The improved strain of King Philip has survived into the 21st century, representing loyal corn breeders as well as the Wampanoag culture.
King Philip Corn ranges in color from dark yellow to a copper-red. Through selection, by 1860 the cob had lengthened from eleven to fourteen inches, doubling the yield from the landrace form of the plant. Another advantage of King Philip Corn is that it is resistant to mold. King Philip Corn was originally grown in Massachusetts where the Wampanoag community was located, and production soon spread to New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and parts of Lower Canada. Currently, King Philip Corn is planted exclusively by small patch farmers in New England, and there is only one commercial seed source.
King Philip Corn is not suitable for conventional agriculture for a variety of reasons, including the widespread use of petroleum-based fertilizers, which would send the stalks into leaf production. The two to four ears of corn per stalk were considered highly productive in the 19th century, however modern hybrids have substantially higher yields. Corn production in America continues to grow due to government subsidies on the classic big kernelled yellow corn. These subsidies, and the conventional agriculture system have been detrimental to the production of landrace corn varieties like King Philip Corn. Despite its superior taste and rich cultural history, the production of King Phillip Corn has gone nearly extinct due to conventional farming practices.