Over 800 open-pollinated (OP) varieties of sweet corn were grown and named in the century prior to the development of hybrids, but only a few of the historically important OP cultivars exist today. Alleles that could improve disease resistance of modern sweet corn may be present in the OP cultivars still in existence. The objectives of this research were to compare 36 OP sweet corn cultivars to modern commercial hybrids for reactions to Stewart's wilt, common rust, northern leaf blight (NLB), and southern leaf blight (SLB), and to classify the OP cultivars based on phenotypic reactions to these four diseases. Plants were inoculated in 1994, 1995, and 1996 with Erwinia stewartii, Puccinia sorghi, Exserohilum turcicum, or Bipolaris maydis. Symptoms were rated on a whole-plot basis, and ratings were analyzed by analysis of variance (ANOVA). Means were separated by Bayesian least significant difference values. Some of the OP cultivars had phenotypes that were intermediate to moderately resistant to Stewart's wilt, common rust, NLB, or SLB, but none of the cultivars were more resistant than the best commercial hybrids. Distributions of ratings for rust, NLB, and SLB were less disperse for the OP cultivars than for commercial hybrids. Hence, the resistance of modern sweet corn germ plasm to Stewart's wilt, rust, and NLB appears to be greater than that of the OP cultivars. OP cultivars and four standard hybrids were placed into groups based on a hierarchical cluster analysis of disease reactions. The seven groups formed from the cluster analysis of disease ratings were considerably different than those formed from isozyme variation and morphological characteristics. The partial resistance of some cultivars, e.g., Golden Sunshine, Country Gentleman, Stowell's Evergreen, and Red, may be relatively diverse since these cultivars were placed in different groups based on isozyme and morphological variation. OP cultivars with moderate levels of resistance may be sources of resistance alleles not present in commercial hybrids.

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