The Story of “Glass Gem” Corn and The Cherokee Man Who Accidentally Created It


A half-Cherokee man collected many rare, indigenous types of corn and grew them in an attempt to preserve his heritage. After crossing them together, the final product was a “glass gem” corn with sparks with every color of the rainbow.

The man that was responsible for this creation wrote that “That little ear of corn with the translucent, jewel-colored kernels, whose picture has recently received attention around the world, has a story… and its kinfolk from a remarkably colorful gene pool share this story.”

In 2012, the glass gem corn became viral after a photo was posted of it on Facebook, however, its history is much older than that.

Many decades ago a half-Scotch-Irish and half-Cherokee Oklahoma farmer named Carl Barnes started exploring the roots of the Cherokee. Because of that, he started collecting rare and old types of corn and started growing them.

After a while, he noticed ancestral types of corn to re-appear in his crops.

He began to isolate them and found that many of their genetic types match up varieties of corn which was lost to the Native American tribes, especially those that were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s.

This allowed Barnes to re-introduce the unique types of corn to the elders of the tribes that were lost to them, helping them reclaim their cultural identities.

After the death of Barnes, Greg Schoen was left responsible for the care and distribution of glass gem corn. He stated that “The corn is, to them, literally the same as their bloodline, their language, and their sense of who they are.”

After Barnes made a connection and friendship with the tribe elders from around the country, they gifted him with other ancient corn seeds. By incorporating them in his fields, Barnes continued the breeding and isolation of the most colorful kernels.

Greg Schoen and Barnes met in 1994 in Oklahoma at a native-plant gathering.

Schoen was surprised by the display of traditional ears of corn, stating that some of them had almost the entire spectrum of colors.

Schoen wrote that “I knew from the start there was something magical in that seed and that I needed to get to know Carl better.”

Schoen said that Barnes experimented with many varieties of corn “but to his recollection, the rainbow corn was derived from his crossings of Pawnee miniature corns with an Osage red flour corn and also another Osage corn called Greyhorse … probably during the late 1980s.”

Barnes gave Schoen a handful of the seeds for the rainbow corn because of his interest. After that, Schoen multiplied and grew it in his home state in New Mexico.

Additionally, he grew the little rainbow corn alongside larger yellow varieties which Schoen hoped it would broaden and strengthen its genetics and he was completely right.

 “With each year I began to see the patterns emerge and this rainbow corn evolved into its greater potential.”

Schoen gave samples of his best selections of the rainbow seed to Native Seeds in 2009, a non-profit dedicated to preserving hundreds of indigenous crop seeds from Mexico and the American Southwest.

Additionally, he gave Native Seeds photos of the rainbow corn for the archives. One of the photos that he gave was titled “Glass Gems” and this name stuck.

In 2012, Native Seeds posted a photo on their Facebook page with the title “glass gem” rainbow corn, and the photo became viral instantly.

This crop is grown all over the world as of now. Many countries such as Mexico, Kenya, Israel, and India all started growing it.

You can get the seeds of this corn from for $3.25 or on Amazon.


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