S. spontaneum S. robustum S. officinarum S. barberi S. sinense S. edule
Ref: ITIS 42058
as of 2004-05-05
Sugarcane is one of six species of a tall tropical southeast Asian grass (Family Poaceae) having stout fibrous jointed stalks whose sap at one time was the primary source of sugar. Sugar cane is composed of six species of the genus Saccharum in tribe Andropogoneae:
S. spontaneum -wild
S. robustum -wild
S. officinarum -cultivated
S. barberi -cultivated
S. sinense -cultivated
S. edule -cultivated
The cultivated species are complicated hybrids and all species interbreed.
Harvested cane is processed by squeezing out the sap, from which sugar is crystallized out, leaving the liquid molasses. Fresh sugar canes are sometimes chewed for the juice. The molasses from sugar cane is used to make rum while the fibrous stalks, called bagasse, are used for paper, fuel or animal feed.
Over 100 countries grow sugar cane. There are 130,000 km² (32 million acres) of sugar cane worldwide. The top twenty producing countries harvested 1200 million tons of sugar cane in 2002 (more than 6 times the amount of sugar beets produced). The largest producers are Brazil, India and China.
The history of sugar in the West is an important subject for understanding the emerging industrial power of Europe in the 1700s and 1800s. Sugar cane was grown extensively in the Caribbean and still is on some islands. In colonial times sugar was a major product of the triangular trade of New World raw materials, European manufactures and African slaves. France found its sugar cane islands so valuable it effectively traded Canada to Britain for their return at the end of the Seven Years War. The Dutch similarly kept Suriname, a sugar colony in South America instead of seeking the return of the New Netherlands (New York). Cuban sugar cane produced sugar which received price supports from and a guaranteed market in the USSR; the dissolution of that country forced the closure of most of Cuba's sugar industry. Sugar cane is still a large part of the economy in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Grenada and other islands. The sugar cane industry is a major export for the Caribbean but is expected to collapse with the removal of European preferences by 2008.
Brazil is a major grower of sugar cane where it is used to produce sugar as well as to provide the alcohol used in making gasohol and biodiesel fuels.
Ribbon cane is a subtropical type that was once widely grown in southern United States, as far north as coastal North Carolina. The juice was extracted with horse or mule-powered crushers, then the juice was boiled, similar to maple syrup, in a flat pan, then used in the syrup form as a sweetener for other foods. It is not a commercial crop nowadays, but a few growers try to keep alive the old traditions and find ready sales for their product. Most modern United States sugar cane production is on Hawaii although it is also grown in Florida and Louisiana.