Please wait a minute...
Journal of Integrative Agriculture  2022, Vol. 21 Issue (8): 2159-2167    DOI: 10.1016/S2095-3119(21)63697-3
Review Advanced Online Publication | Current Issue | Archive | Adv Search |
Historical trends in maize morphology from the 1950s to the 2010s in China
MA Da-ling1, XIE Rui-zhi2, YU Xiao-fang1, LI Shao-kun2, GAO Ju-lin1
1 Agricultural College, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010019, P.R.China
2 Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences/Key Laboratory of Crop Physiology and Ecology, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Beijing 100081, P.R.China
Download:  PDF in ScienceDirect  
Export:  BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Abstract  The morphology of the plant and ear is a preliminary selection characteristic in breeding new varieties of maize.  As new maize cultivars were developed from the 1950s through the 2010s in China, most had changes in both plant and ear morphological characteristics that contributed substantially to maize yield gains.  Over the seven decades, plant and ear height fluctuated with a small increase from the 1950s to 2000s, and then a decrease in the 2010s, while the ear ratio and internodes length below the ear decreased significantly.  Leaf angles became significantly more upright, especially for the leaves above the ear, and the leaf area per plant improved markedly.  Leaf orientation increased from the 1950s to the 2000s then decreased in the 2010s.  Tassel size and the anthesis–silking interval were both reduced substantially.  Ear diameter, kernel number, and kernel weight increased from the 1950 to the 2000s, then decreased in the 2010s under the same cultivation conditions.  We found that modern maize hybrids have a lower plant height, ear height and ear ratio which increased lodging resistance, a more erect leaf which increased high-density planting tolerance, and smaller ears and kernels which facilitated rapid dehydration during late grain filling.  These morphological selection criteria, which are suitable for mechanized operations, are proposed as the focus for future maize breeding.
Keywords:  maize yield       morphological characteristics        breeding direction        artificial selection        improved maize cultivars        mechanized farming  
Received: 29 October 2020   Accepted: 03 March 2021
Fund: The authors wish to thank the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFD0300302 and 2017YFD0300804), the China Agriculture Research System of MOF and MARA (CARS-02-63) and the Natural Science Foundation of Inner Mongolia, China (2020MS03053). 
About author:  MA Da-ling, E-mail:; Correspondence LI Shao-kun, Tel/Fax: +86-10-82105791, E-mail:; GAO Ju-lin, E-mail:

Cite this article: 

MA Da-ling, XIE Rui-zhi, YU Xiao-fang, LI Shao-kun, GAO Ju-lin. 2022. Historical trends in maize morphology from the 1950s to the 2010s in China. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 21(8): 2159-2167.

Albrecht K A, Martin M J, Russel W A, Wedin W F, Buxton D R. 1986. Chemical and in vitro digestible dry matter composition of maize stalks after selection for stalk strength and stalk–rot resistance. Crop Science, 26, 1051–1055. 
Barker T, Campos H, Cooper M, Dolan D, Edmeades G, Habben J, Schussler J, Wright D, Zinselmeier C. 2005. Improving drought tolerance in maize. Plant Breed Reviews, 25, 173–253.
Chen Z, Liu Y, Yin Y, Liu Q, Li N, Li X, He W, Hao D, Liu X, Guo C. 2019. Expression of at GA2ox1 enhances drought tolerance in maize. Plant Growth Regulation, 89, 203–215. 
Ci X, Li M, Liang X, Xie Z, Zhang D, Li X, Lu Z, Ru G, Bai L, Xi C, Hao Z, Zhang S. 2011. Genetic contribution to advanced yield for maize hybrids released from 1970 to 2000 in China. Crop Science, 51, 1–8.
Ci X, Li M, Xu J, Lu Z, Bai P, Ru G, Liang X, Zhang D, Li X, Bai L, Xie C, Hao Z, Zhang S, Dong S. 2012. Trends of grain yield and plant traits in Chinese maize cultivars from the 1950s to the 2000s. Euphytica, 185, 395–406.
Crosbie T M. 1982. Changes in Physiological Traits Associated with Long-Term Breeding Efforts to Improve Grain Yield of Maize. American Seed Trade Association, Washington.
CSSC (Crop Science Society of China). 2020. Report on Advances in Crop Sciences. Science and Technology of China Press, China. (in Chinese)
Dong S T, Gao R Q, Hu C H, Liu P, Liu K C, Song Q Q, Wang K J, Xie R Z, Zhang J W. 2006. Eco-Physiology and Formation of Yield and Quality in Maize. Higher Education Press, China. (in Chinese)
Dudley J W. 1994. Selection for rind puncture resistance in two maize population. Crop Science, 34, 1458–1460.
Duvick D N. 2005. The contribution of breeding to yield advances in maize (Zea mays L.). Advances in Agronomy, 86, 83–145. 
Duvick D N, Smith J S C, Cooper M. 2004. Long-term selection in a commercial hybrid maize breeding program. In: Plant Breeding Reviews. Wiley, New York.
Duvick D N. 1997. What is Yield? Developing Drought and Low N-Tolerant Maize. CIMMYT, Mexico.
Dwyer L M, Tollenaar M, Stewart D W. 1991. Changes in plant density dependence of leaf photosynthesis of maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids, 1959 to 1988. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 71, 1–11.
Esechie H A. 1985. Relationship of stalk morphology and chemical composition to lodging resistance in maize (Zea mays L.) in a rainforest zone. Journal of Agricultural Science, 104, 429–433
Edmeades G O, Schussler J, Campos H, Zinselmeier C, Habben J, Collinson S, Cooper M, Hoffbeck M, Smith O. 2003. Increasing the Odds of Success in Selecting for Abiotic Stress Tolerance in Maize. Maize Association of Australia, Toowoomba. 
Eyherabide G H, Damilano A L. 2001. Comparison of genetic gains for grain yield of maize between the 1980s and 1990s in Argentina. Maydica, 46, 277–281.
Hammer G L, Dong Z, McLean G, Doherty A, Messina C, Schussler J, Zinselmeier C, Paszkiewicz S, Cooper M. 2009. Can changes in canopy and/or root system architecture explain historical maize yield trends in the U.S. Corn Belt? Crop Science, 49, 299–312.
Hu C H, Dong S T, Wang K J, Song Q Q. 1998. Study on growth characteristics evolution law of maize varieties in different years in China. Journal of Maize Science, 6, 44–48. (in Chinese)
Li C F. 2009. Evolution of yield and physiological traits of maize hybrids and their parents released in different years. MSc thesis, Shandong Agricultural University, China. (in Chinese)
Li C F, Dong S T, Liu R X, Ren H, Ding Z S, Zhao M. 2019. Diurnal variation of gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and photosynthetic response of six parental lines of maize released in three eras. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 18, 2732–2741.
Li C H, Li Y X, Shi Y S, Song Y C, Zhang D F, Buckler E S, Zhang Z W, Wang T Y, Li Y. 2015. Genetic control of the leaf angle and leaf orientation value as revealed by ultra-high density maps in three connected maize populations. PLoS ONE, 10, e0121624
Li J P, Ali A S, Xiao G, Chen F J, Yuan L X, Gu R L. 2019. Phenotypic characterization and genetic mapping of the dwarf mutant m34 in maize. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 18, 948–957.
Li S K, Wang C T. 2008. Analysis on change of production and factors promoting yield increase of corn in China. Journal of Maize Sciences, 16, 26–30. (in Chinese)
Li S K, Wang C T. 2010a. Innovation and Diffusion of Corn Production Technology. Science Press, China. (in Chinese)
Li S K, Wang C T. 2010b. Potential and Ways to High Yield in Maize. Science Press, China. (in Chinese)
Li S K, Wang C T. 2009. Review of maize production technology in China. Scientia Agricultura Sinica, 42, 1941–1951. (in Chinese)
Li Y, Ma X, Wang T, Li Y, Liu C, Liu Z, Sun B, Shi Y, Song Y, Carlone M, Bubeck D, Bhardwaj H, Whitaker D, Wilson W, Jones E, Wright K, Sun S, William N, Smith S. 2011. Increasing maize productivity in China by planting hybrids with germplasm that responds favorably to higher planting densities. Crop Science, 51, 2391–2400.
Liu X, Xie R Z, Niu X K, Xiu W W, Li S K, Gao S J, Zhang F L. 2012. Effects of planting density on lodging resistance performance of maize varieties of different eras in Northeast China. Crops, 5, 126–130. (in Chinese)
Liu X M, Gu W R, Li C F, Li J, Wei S. 2021. Effects of nitrogen fertilizer and chemical regulation on spring maize lodging characteristics, grain filling and yield formation under high planting density in Heilongjiang Province, China. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 20, 511–526.
Maddonni G A. 1996. Leaf area, light interception and crop development in maize. Field Crops Research, 48, 81–87.
Ma D L, Li S K, Zhai L C, Yu X F, Xie R Z, Gao J L. 2020a. Response of maize barrenness to density and nitrogen increases in Chinese cultivars released from the 1950s to 2010s. Field Crops Research, 250, 107766.
Ma D L, Xie R Z, Liu X, Niu X K, Hou P, Wang K R, Lu Y L, Li S K. 2014a. Lodging-related stalk characteristics of maize varieties in China since the 1950s. Crop Science, 54, 2805–2814.
Ma D L, Xie R Z, Niu X K, Li S K, Long H L, Liu Y E. 2014b. Changes in the morphological traits of maize genotypes in China between the 1950s and 2000s. European Journal of Agronomy, 58, 1–10.
Ma D L, Xie R Z, Zhang F L, Li J, Li S M, Long H L, Liu Y, Guo Y Q, Li S K. 2015. Genetic contribution to maize yield gain among different locations in China. Maydica, 60, 1–7.
Ma D L, Yu X F, Ming B, Li S K, Xie R Z, Gao J L. 2020b. Maize nitrogen use efficiency improved due to density tolerance increase since the 1950s. Agronomy Journal, 112, 1537–1548.
MARA (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People’s Republic of China). 2020. Agricultural Statistics of China. [2020-05-23].
Niu X K, Xie R Z, Liu X, Zhang F L, Li S K, Gao S J. 2013. Maize yield gains in Northeast China in the last six decades. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 12, 101–108.
Qi S J, Zhao J J, Zheng H G. 2020. Development trend analysis of global maize breeding research from 2013 to 2018. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology, 22, 12–21.
Russell W A. 1991. Genetic improvement of maize yields. Advances in Agronomy, 46, 245–298.
Shi X H, Li K J, Sun W S, Zhao Y X, Wang J J, Li Y. 2000. Agronomic characters of maize hybrid in different areas in Shandong Province. Journal of Maize Sciences, 8, 33–35. (in Chinese)
Stewart D W, Costa C, Dwyer L M, Smith D L, Hamilton R I, Ma B L. 2003. Canopy structure, light interception, and photosynthesis in maize. Agronomy Journal, 95, 1465–1474.
Tollenaar M. 1989. Genetic improvement in grain yield of commercial maize hybrids grown in Ontario from 1959 to 1988. Crop Science, 29, 1365–1371.
Tollenaar M. 1991. Physiological basis of genetic improvement of maize hybrids in Ontario from 1959 to 1988. Crop Science, 31, 119–124.
Tollenaar M, Lee E A. 2006. Dissection of physiological processes underlying grain yield in maize by examining genetic improvement and heterosis. Maydica, 51, 399–408.
Tong P. 2006. Evaluation of the maize breeding direction bas is on the plant morphological index. Journal of Maize Sciences, 14, 1–3. (in Chinese) 
Wang J, Jia S, Kong Q. 1995. Retroversion and analysis of breeding for plant with more upright leaves. Shandong Agricultural Sciences, 6, 4–6. (in Chinese)
Wang Q, Xue J, Chen J L, Fan Y H, Zhang G Q, Xie R Z, Ming B, Hou P, Wang K R, Li S K. 2020. Key indicators affecting maize stalk lodging resistance of different growth periods under different sowing dates. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 19, 2419–2428.
Wang T Y, Ma X L, Li Y, Bai D P, Liu C, Liu Z Z, Tan X J, Shi Y S, Song Y C, Carlone M, Bubeck D, Bhardwaj H, Jones E, Wright K, Smith S. 2011. Changes in yield and yield components of single-cross maize hybrids released in China between 1964 and 2001. Crop Science, 51, 512–525.
Xie Z J, Li M S, Xu J S, Zhang S H. 2009. Contributions of genetic improvement to yields of maize hybrids during different eras in North China. Scientia Agricultura Sinica, 42, 781–789. (in Chinese)
Xue J, Xie R Z, Zhang W F, Wang K R, Hou P, Ming B, Gou L, Li S K. 2017. Research progress on reduced lodging of high-yield and -density maize. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 16, 2717–2725.
Xue J Q, Bao J S, Yang C S, Ma G S. 1995. Grain yield and light receiving respond of plant morphological pattern in maize. Acta Agriculturae Boreali-occidentalis Sinica, 4, 29–34. (in Chinese)
Yang J, Mao C, Li F, Ran L, Liu J, Liu S. 2003. Correlation and path analysis on agronomic traits and kernel yield of maize hybrids. Chinese Agricultural Science Bulletin, 19, 28–30. (in Chinese)
Yang Z. 2019. The response of different maize hybrids to planting density. MSc thesis, Sichuan Agricultural University, China. (in Chinese)
Zhang L. 1991. On breeding for ideo type in maize. Jiangsu Journal of Agricultural Science, 7, 45–48. (in Chinese)
Zhang M, Chen T, Latifmanesh H, Feng X M, Cao T H, Qian C R, Deng A X, Song Z W, Zhang W J. 2018. How plant density affects maize spike differentiation, kernel set, and grain yield formation in Northeast China? Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 17, 1745–1757.
[1] SHI Wen-xuan, ZHANG Qian, LI Lan-tao, TAN Jin-fang, XIE Ruo-han, WANG Yi-lun. Hole fertilization in the root zone facilitates maize yield and nitrogen utilization by mitigating potential N loss and improving mineral N accumulation[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2023, 22(4): 1184-1198.
[2] CHEN Yan-hui, GAO Hui-fang, WANG Sa, LIU Xian-yan, HU Qing-xia, JIAN Zai-hai, WAN Ran, SONG Jin-hui, SHI Jiang-li. Comprehensive evaluation of 20 pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) cultivars in China [J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2022, 21(2): 434-445.
[3] ZHANG Sha, Bai Yun, Zhang Jia-hua, Shahzad ALI. Developing a process-based and remote sensing driven crop yield model for maize (PRYM–Maize) and its validation over the Northeast China Plain[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(2): 408-423.
[4] WU Jian-zhai, ZHANG Jing, GE Zhang-ming, XING Li-wei, HAN Shu-qing, SHEN Chen, KONG Fan-tao . Impact of climate change on maize yield in China from 1979 to 2016[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2021, 20(1): 289-299.
[5] LI Hui, FENG Wen-ting, HE Xin-hua, ZHU Ping, GAO Hong-jun, SUN Nan, XU Ming-gang . Chemical fertilizers could be completely replaced by manure to maintain high maize yield and soil organic carbon (SOC) when SOC reaches a threshold in the Northeast China Plain[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2017, 16(04): 937-946.
[6] ZHU Lin, LIU Jian-liang, LUO Sha-sha, BU Ling-duo, CHEN Xin-ping; LI Shi-qing. Soil mulching can mitigate soil water deficiency impacts on rainfed maize production in semiarid environments[J]. >Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 2015, 14(1): 58-66.
No Suggested Reading articles found!