ST. LOUIS — You see it everywhere in the summer: corn. But how much do you know about it and its history?

“You find it all over the world. Almost every culture is growing it now. However, it got its start in southern Mexico,” Nezka Pfeifer, museum curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, said.

Known globally as maize, corn is one of the top three worldwide crops, used by billions of people every day for food, animal feed, and biofuel. But also has some surprising uses.

“There’s a component from corn that makes fireworks burn brighter. It is in our makeup.”

To highlight this critical crop, the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum at the Missouri Botanical Garden has opened its latest exhibition, Kernels of Culture: Maize Around the World.

“There’s so much interesting information about genetics, how corn grows, all the different parts of corn that are used,” Pfeifer said.

The exhibition brings you the historic and modern science of maize, from the garden’s historic corn cob collection to the latest scientific research from the Danforth Plant Science Center and the USDA research center at Mizzou.

“They are growing hundreds of varieties that are grown all over the world, partially to see how they do in the Missouri climate but also to trial types of corn that could be reintroduced as food sources,” Pfeifer said.

But it also highlights the cultural impact of corn, including historical objects and stories from diverse communities, whiskey distillers, and even jewelry makers.

“I think a lot of people are going to find things that they will understand and recognize from their childhood or things they enjoy now, including all the way we like to enjoy and eat corn.”

Art is another big part of the exhibition. One installation merges science with art as local artist Megan Singleton interprets the genetic code of maize.

“What you are looking at is part of this symbolic, colorful code, all interpreted in colorful corn cobs that are, in fact, made from corn fibers which we grew here at the garden for her to use,” Pfeifer said.

More than 200 St. Louis students contributed works of art as well.

“I was like, ‘Oh, maybe they’re only going to talk about popcorn at the movies or maybe going to corn mazes. But they covered everything. Going to taco trucks. Making tamales with their abuelas. A lot of multicultural things that I hoped that they would do.”

Kernels Of Culture: Maize Around the World will be at the Sachs Museum through March 2025. The garden will host events and classes throughout the 11-month run to help visitors think of corn as more than just a summer barbecue staple.

“I think understanding where it comes from might make people appreciate it more,” says Pfeifer.