It all began when Oklahoma farmer, Carl Barnes, set out to explore his Native American roots. In his adult years, he began growing older corn varieties as a way to reconnect with his heritage. He had a knack for corn breeding, excelling at selecting and saving seed from cobs that exhibited vivid, translucent colors. This eventually resulted in rainbow-colored corn.
The story of this unique corn variety was largely retold by Barnes’ protegee, Greg Schoen, in 2012, when the Glass Gem corn went viral online.
While experimenting with these older corn varieties, Barnes was able to isolate ancestral types that had been lost to Native American tribes when they were relocated to what is now Oklahoma in the 1800s. This resulted in an exchange of ancient corn seeds with people he had met and made friends with all over the country.
Nobody knows exactly how many seasons he carefully chose, saved, and replanted these special seeds, but after many years, his painstaking efforts created a wondrous corn that has captivated people around the world.
A fellow farmer, Greg Schoen, met Barnes in 1994 at a native-plant gathering in Oklahoma. Barnes had his rainbow-colored corn on display. Schoen was blown away.
That following year, Barnes gave Schoen some of the rainbow seed. Schoen planted the first seeds that summer.
Image credit: Greg Schoen
Schoen and Barnes remained close friends, and over the years, Schoen received more samples of the rainbow seed.
Initially, Schoen only grew small amounts of the colorful corn in New Mexico, where he moved in 1999.
In 2005, Schoen began growing larger plots of the rainbow corn near Sante Fe, alongside more traditional varieties.
When mixed with the traditional varieties, the rainbow corn created new strains. Year by year, the corn displayed more vibrant colors and vivid patterns.
Schoen took to naming the various colors and patterns that emerged — “circus colors,” “true rainbow,” “deep blue,” and so on.
Schoen eventually came up with the name “Glass Gems,” for a blue-green and pink-purple corn he grew in 2007. This is the original picture that went viral in 2012, turning the unique-colored corn into an Internet sensation.
Since then Glass Gem has gone through even more selection and perfection to become the flawless rainbow it is today.