AbstractModern compared with older maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids tolerate more plant density stress, but more information is required on how modern hybrids interact with plant density. Field experiments were established in 1991 (warm‐dry) and 1992 (cool‐wet) to evaluate whole‐plant physiological, dry matter (DM), and grain yield responses of four commercial hybrids at low (4.5 plants m−2), medium (6.75), and high (9.0) plant densities. As plant density increased, leaf CO2 exchange rates (CER) declined 10 to 20% under mild and 20 to 30% under warm dry conditions. Compared with the high plant density, the low plant density had a 40% lower leaf area index from midvegetative to early grain filling, which offset higher photosynthetic efficiency, resulting in lower crop growth rates during vegetative development and 25% less DM accumulation at silking. When averaged across hybrids, the low plant density averaged 15% lower DM and grain yields than the high plant density. Hybrid ✕ plant density interactions were observed for DM and grain yields. The more prolific hybrid showed mostly linear DM and grain yield responses to plant density, whereas a single‐eared hybrid showed quadratic responses in both years. Another single‐eared hybrid, which did not respond to density, had low leaf CER at all densities, a reduction in kernels per plant at the medium density, and increased barrenness at the high plant density in 1991. Apparently, modern hybrids interact with plant density, regardless of growing conditions, and some modern hybrids do not tolerate density stress in dry years.

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