The « landraces », « populations », or more precisely, « open pollinated varieties » are the maize varieties which were used by farmers for millenials and till the middle of 20th century.
They were replaced gradually by « hybrids », more precisely by « F1 hybrids from pure lines ». F1 means first generation hybrid. The pure lines are made by self-pollination (commonly call inbreeding) of plants from a population for 6 to 8 generations. « Hybrids » represent 100% of maize acreage in the developed countries : Europe, USA, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, etc.
« Populations » are still cultivated in many countries of Africa and central or South America.
Landraces are, in fact,are comprised of seeds which are more than 90% hybrids ! Maize is an allogamic species of which the pollen is carried by the wind from one plant to the next one, making natural hybrids. More than 90% of the kernels on a cob of a landrace were pollinated by neighboring plants to create F1 hybrids.
Contrary to « F1 hybrids from pure lines » which have an homogeneous aspect (First Mendel law), populations have an heterogeneous aspect. Each plant is a genetically distinct hybrid with different levels of « hybrid vigor », earliness, resistance to diseases and lodging.
That explains their inferiority in comparison to « hybrids » and their abandonment by French farmers in the 1960’s.
At that time the first breeders, those of the INRA and those of the first co-ops which were launching their maize breeding programs, collected the landraces farmers were then abandoning. They used them to create « inbred lines », parents of their future « commercial hybrids » which proved successful in France and in Northern Europe due to their earliness and cold tolerance inherited from the ancestral landraces of the French mountainous areas.
In 1983 INRA and Pro-Maïs together collected and preserved those populations.
Pro-Maïs and INRA preserved and made available to the public 264 populations just as all genetic resources of the « National Collection » are available
The list of those populations and information concerning the way they were cultivated and used by the farmers in the past are available on this website.
- The French landraces
- The Pyrenean maize landraces
Pro-Maïs, in 2012, enlisted an ethno-botanist, Maryse Carraretto, to survey traditional knowledge associated with ancient maize varieties in the Pyrenees valleys starting from the Ariège in the East,to Basque country in the West.
- Gastronomic cards : ancestral recipes made with maize.
Here are many traditional recipes made with local maize landraces.
1- Southwestern recipes of Fabienne Carme
2- Country recipes by Simin Palay
3- « Pastet » recipes of Claire Rousse