In The Fullerton Arboretum

By Alfredo Chiri

SUGARCANE Saccharum officinarum Poaceae Donated by: CRFG/ Sven Mirten and planted in 1999 (r.f.-09) Common names: Sugarcane, Caña de azucar, Caña dulce, Tubo, Tiwu, Noble cane, Kaneh, Tebu.

Sugarcane originated in the South Pacific Islands and New Guinea, and nowadays it is found throughout the tropics and subtropics. Sugarcane is cultivated as far north as Spain and as far south as South Africa. In the Americas the sugarcane is cultivated from Florida to Texas and California in the north and as far south as Perú and Brazil.

The sugarcane stem or stalk varies from 9 to 15 feet tall and 1 to 2 inches thick. It is fibrous and juicy. The internodes are short and swollen. The sheaths (blades), overlap with their lower portions falling from the sheath.

The blades are elongated with a very thick midrib.

Sugarcane plants are planted in zones that are warm with high tropical humidity, from the rain forests of North and Central America to the very dry coastal zones in Perú and Ecuador. Sugarcane grows in sunny areas on soils that are unsuitable to trees preferring soils that are sandy but not loamy.

The plant requires a hot humid climate with alternating dry periods and thrives best on low elevations on flat or slightly sloping land. However, it flourishes in any ordinary, good soil.

Standing stalks of sugarcane freeze at 25 to 22F, but the plant can endure a maximum of 130F and a minimum of 10F. Lower temperatures will reduce the sugarcane stem length, which happens to grow at nighttime. The plant will tolerate occasional flooding.

Sugarcane harvesting starts 12-16 months from the time of planting when the canes become tough and start to turn pale yellow. The cutting of the canes should be as close to the ground as possible. The root end of the cane is the part that is the richest in sugar. The rhizomes left in the ground will continue to give crops for 3-4 years, sometimes up to 10 or more years.

Sugarcane plants are propagated by cutting sections from the stalks and placing them in shallow ditches made in the soil. The young plants will grow from the internodes of the cuttings. In some tropical areas there are sugarcanes that produce seeds, but they are primarily used to develop new hybrids to produce better cultivars that are stronger and resistant to pests and soil viruses.

Cane sugar, cane syrup, wax, molasses, and rum are some of the products obtained from the sugarcane plants. Molasses is used as a sweetener and supplement for cattle feeds. Other uses of the derivatives of the sugar cane are: industrial alcohol, explosives, synthetic rubber, preservative for fruits and meat, and the production fuel for combustion engines.