1. Family: Poaceae Barnhart
    1. Genus: Saccharum L.
      1. Saccharum officinarum L.

        Saccharum officinarum is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) and is widely cultivated, providing around 70% of the world's sugar. Sugar cane yields the highest number of calories per unit area of cultivation of any plant.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Sugar is extracted from the sweet, juicy stems of sugar cane, and is used worldwide as a sweetener, preservative and in the cosmetics industry.

    Saccharum officinarum is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) and is widely cultivated, providing around 70% of the world's sugar. Sugar cane yields the highest number of calories per unit area of cultivation of any plant.

    Sugar cane probably originated in New Guinea, and was taken to the Americas by the explorer Christopher Columbus on his second expedition there in 1493. Sugar cane is now grown in more than 70 countries, mainly in the tropics, but also in some sub-tropical areas. India and Brazil produce about half the world's cane sugar.

    The word 'sugar' is thought to derive from the ancient Sanskrit 'sharkara'.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Sugar cane is grown in southwestern Europe, Africa, temperate Asia, tropical Asia, Australia, the Pacific, southeastern USA, Mexico, and South America. It has been cultivated in New Guinea since about 6000 BC, and, from about 1000 BC, it was gradually spread along human migration routes to Asia and the Indian subcontinent. 

    Description

    Overview: A tall grass, which looks rather like a bamboo cane, and grows 3-6 m high with culms (stems) 20-45 mm in diameter.

    The thicker-stemmed forms are commonly known as 'thick' or 'noble' canes because of their tall, handsome, colourful stems.

    Leaves: Broad (up to 6 cm wide), 70-150 cm long, borne alternately on the stem, with leaf base encircling the stem.

    Fruits: An oblong caryopsis (small, dry, one-seeded fruit), 1.5 mm long.

    Saccharum officinarum can be recognised by its hairless or short-haired panicle axis, and leaf-blades up to 6 cm wide.

    Other species of Saccharum

    Besides Saccharum officinarum , four other species in the genus Saccharum have been used for sugar production:

    S. barberi , known as 'Indian cane' or 'thin' cane S. robustum S. sinense , known as 'Chinese cane' S. spontaneum , which is known as 'wild cane' and used for hybridisation purposes Uses Early uses - chewing

    Sugar cane was originally grown in southeastern Asia and the Pacific for the sole purpose of chewing. The rind was removed and the internal tissues sucked or chewed. The production of sugar by boiling cane juice first took place in India, most likely during the first millennium BC.

    Food and drink

    Sugar is now a highly valued food and sweetener and also serves as an edible preservative. Raw and refined sugars are produced by heating, removing impurities and crystallising sugar cane juice, which mainly consists of sucrose.

    Raw and refined sugars are exported all over the world for use in sweet and savoury dishes, processed foods and drinks and for preserving fruits and meat. They are also compressed into sugar cubes and made into syrup. White sugar can be further processed (ground into a fine powder) into icing sugar, which is used in desserts, baking and confectionery.

    In India, the young shoots of sugar cane are sometimes steamed and roasted as a vegetable.

    Medicinal uses

    Sugar cane has also been used medicinally. In southern Asia it has been used to treat a wide variety of health complaints from constipation to coughs, and has been used externally to treat skin problems. Both the roots and stems are used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat skin and urinary tract infections, as well as for bronchitis, heart conditions, loss of milk production, cough, anaemia, and constipation. Some texts advise its use for jaundice and low blood pressure.

    Sugar paste has been widely used to pack wounds and aid healing.

    Hair removal

    Sugar is used for hair removal, in a practice that is thought to date back to the ancient Egyptians. A warm paste of sugar, water and lemon juice is applied to the skin. Strips of cloth are then pressed over the paste and torn off quickly, taking the hair with them. Sugar is also used in soap-making and as an abrasive scrub to exfoliate skin.

    Molasses and alcohol production 

    A by-product of sugar refining is molasses, which is a dark, syrupy product used in the preparation of edible syrups and for numerous industrial products. It is used for animal feed, fertilizers, and even for adding to tobacco for hookah pipes and some cigarettes. Molasses, along with cane juice and other by-products of sugar production, can be fermented and then distilled, to produce rum.

    Pure alcohol (ethanol) can also be produced from molasses, and is used in the preparation of vinegar, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cleaning preparations, solvents, and coatings. Ethanol produced in this way (bioethanol) is widely used in Brazil and the USA as a motor fuel, as part of a movement to use sustainable alternatives to petrol. Other products produced from molasses include butanol and lactic acid (solvents), citric acid (used in foods and drinks), and glycerol.

    By-products of sugar cane processing

    The fibrous cane residue left after processing is known as bagasse and is used as fuel to generate energy for the sugar manufacturing process. It also serves as a fibre for making paper. The fibre is separated from the pith, which itself can be used as an animal feed. Filter cake, consisting of cane juice, impurities and lime, is used as a soil improver.

    Cultivation

    Sugar cane is successfully propagated in Kew's Tropical Nursery using cuttings taken from the cane and then laid flat. The plants require large pots due to their extensive root system.

    Sugar cane benefits from regular feeding and a large volume of compost. A standard Kew mix containing 10% loam, 45% coir and 45% Silvafibre with added fertiliser is used, and is kept moist.

    The glasshouse zone in which sugar cane is grown has a minimum temperature of 14˚C and high light intensity. Under good light conditions the plants grow strongly and do not require staking.

    Sugar cane can suffer from red spider mite infestations, which can cause considerable damage to leaves.

    Sugar cane at Kew

    Saccharum officinarum is on display in Kew's Palm House, where many tropical economic plants can be seen.

    Pressed and dried specimens of sugar cane are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details of one of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

    Kew's Economic Botany Collection is home to over 30 specimens of sugar cane and related products. These include sugar, syrup, wax, molasses and even toilet paper made from S. officinarum .

    Ecology
    Hot humid tropics, in moist soils.
    Conservation
    Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria; widespread in cultivation.
    Hazards

    Sugar consumption can be a factor in tooth decay and obesity.

    [GB]
    Habit
    Perennial; caespitose. Rhizomes absent. Culms erect; robust; 300-600 cm long; 20-45 mm diam. Culm-internodes solid; yellow, or mid-green, or purple; distally pruinose (below nodes). Leaf-sheaths loose. Ligule a ciliolate membrane. Leaf-blades linear, or lanceolate; 70-150 cm long; 30-60 mm wide; glaucous. Leaf-blade midrib conspicuous. Leaf-blade surface scaberulous; rough adaxially. Leaf-blade margins scaberulous. Leaf-blade apex acuminate.
    Inflorescences
    Inflorescence a panicle with branches tipped by a raceme. Peduncle glabrous, or pubescent above. Panicle open; pyramidal; dense; 40-60 cm long. Primary panicle branches whorled at most nodes; 5-10 cm long. Panicle axis glabrous, or puberulous. Panicle branches glabrous, or puberulous; bearded in axils. Racemes 5-10 cm long. Rhachis fragile at the nodes; subterete; glabrous on margins, or ciliate on margins. Rhachis internodes filiform; 4-7 mm long. Spikelets in pairs. Fertile spikelets sessile and pedicelled; 2 in the cluster; subequal. Pedicels filiform; glabrous, or ciliate.
    Spikelets
    Spikelets comprising 1 basal sterile florets; 1 fertile florets; without rhachilla extension. Spikelets lanceolate; dorsally compressed; 3.5-4 mm long; falling entire; deciduous from the base, or with accessory branch structures. Spikelet callus bearded; base truncate. Spikelet callus hairs white; 7-12 mm long; 2-3 length of spikelet.
    Fertile
    Spikelets comprising 1 basal sterile florets; 1 fertile florets; without rhachilla extension. Spikelets lanceolate; dorsally compressed; 3.5-4 mm long; falling entire; deciduous from the base, or with accessory branch structures. Spikelet callus bearded; base truncate. Spikelet callus hairs white; 7-12 mm long; 2-3 length of spikelet.
    Glume
    Glumes similar; firmer than fertile lemma. Lower glume lanceolate; 1 length of spikelet; membranous; much thinner above; 2-keeled; 4 -veined. Lower glume surface flat. Lower glume apex acute. Upper glume lanceolate; 1 length of spikelet; membranous; much thinner above; without keels; 3 -veined. Upper glume margins eciliate, or ciliolate. Upper glume apex acute.
    Florets
    Basal sterile florets barren; without significant palea. Lemma of lower sterile floret lanceolate; 1 length of spikelet; hyaline; 0 -veined; without midvein; without lateral veins; ciliate on margins; acute. Fertile lemma present, or absent; linear; 0-1 mm long; hyaline; 0 -veined. Palea absent or minute.
    Flowers
    Lodicules 2; cuneate; glabrous. Anthers 3; 1.5 mm long.
    Fruits
    Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; oblong; isodiametric; 1.5 mm long. Embryo 0.15 length of caryopsis.
    Distribution
    Europe: southwestern. Africa: north, Macaronesia, west tropical, west-central tropical, northeast tropical, east tropical, southern tropical, south, and western Indian ocean. Asia-temperate: western Asia, Arabia, China, and eastern Asia. Asia-tropical: India, Indo-China, Malesia, and Papuasia. Australasia: Australia. Pacific: southwestern, south-central, northwestern, and north-central. North America: southeast USA and Mexico. South America: Mesoamericana, Caribbean, northern South America, western South America, Brazil, and southern South America.
    Reference
    Andropogoneae. Whalen 2003.
    [FWTA]

    Gramineae, W. D. Clayton. Flora of West Tropical Africa 3:2. 1972

    Habit
    Culms up to 6 m. high.
    [KSP]
    Use
    Food and drink, medicine, alcohol production, biofuel, hair removal.

    Images

    Distribution

    Native to:

    New Guinea

    Introduced into:

    Alabama, Aldabra, Algeria, Andaman Is., Angola, Assam, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bismarck Archipelago, Borneo, Brazil North, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Burkina, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canary Is., Caroline Is., Cayman Is., Central African Repu, Chad, China South-Central, China Southeast, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Is., Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Easter Is., Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Florida, Galápagos, Gambia, Gilbert Is., Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Hainan, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jawa, Korea, Laos, Lebanon-Syria, Leeward Is., Lesser Sunda Is., Louisiana, Madagascar, Malaya, Maldives, Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Is., Mauritius, Mexico Central, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Mississippi, Morocco, Myanmar, Nansei-shoto, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand North, Nicaragua, Nicobar Is., Niue, Oman, Panamá, Philippines, Pitcairn Is., Puerto Rico, Rodrigues, Rwanda, Réunion, Samoa, Santa Cruz Is., Senegal, Seychelles, Society Is., Solomon Is., Spain, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Taiwan, Texas, Thailand, Tibet, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad-Tobago, Tubuai Is., Turkey, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Venezuelan Antilles, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Windward Is., Yemen, Zaïre

    Common Names

    English
    Sugar cane

    Saccharum officinarum L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
    Hinton, G.B. [2993], México State K000476351
    Roxburgh, W. [s.n.], India K000943385 Unknown type material
    Glaziou, A. [14400], Brazil K001106148
    Burchell [7289], Brazil K001106149

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 54 (1753)

    Accepted by

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    Literature

    Kew Species Profiles
    • Clayton, W.D., Harman, K.T. & Williamson, H. (2006 onwards). GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora.
    • Stevenson, G.C. (1965). Genetics and Breeding of Sugar Cane. Longmans, London.
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    Kew Backbone Distributions
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    • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
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    • Clayton, W.D. & Snow, N. (2010). A key to Pacific Grasses: 1-107. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Kandwal, M.K. & Gupta, B.K. (2009). An update on grass flora of Uttarkhand Indian Journal of Forestry 32: 657-668.
    • Lisowski, S. (2009). Flore (Angiospermes) de la République de Guinée Scripta Botanica Belgica 41: 1-517.
    • Ahmed, Z.U. (ed.) (2008). Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh 12: 1-505. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
    • Datta, B.K., Saha, R. Roy, M. & Majumder, K. (2008). Grasses of West Tripura district, Tripura, India Pleione 2: 98-105.
    • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
    • Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008). Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela: 1-859. Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela.
    • Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008). Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas: 1-1576. SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
    • Cope, T.A., Knees, S.G. & Miller, A.G. (2007). Flora of the Arabian peninsula and Socotra 5(1): 1-387. Edinburgh University Press.
    • Wu, Z. & Raven, P.H. (eds.) (2006). Poaceae Flora of China 22: 1-733. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.
    • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
    • Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006). Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau: 1-298. Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento.
    • Dávila, P., Mejia-Saulés, M.T., Gómez-Sánchez, N., Valdés-Reyna, J., Ortíz, J.J., Morín, C., Castrejón, J. & Ocampo, A. (2006). Catálogo de las Gramíneas de México: 1-671. CONABIO, México city.
    • Sita, P. & Moutsambote, J.-M. (2005). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Congo, ed. sept. 2005: 1-158. ORSTOM, Centre de Brazzaville.
    • Kress, W.J., DeFilipps, R.A., Farr, E. & Kyi, D.Y.Y. (2003). A Checklist of the Trees, Shrubs, Herbs and Climbers of Myanmar Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 45: 1-590.
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2003). Flora of North America North of Mexico 25: 1-781. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
    • Aké Assi, L. (2002). Flore de la Côte-d'Ivoire: catalogue systématique, biogéographie et écologie. II Boissiera 58: 1-401.
    • Stevens, W.D., Ulloa U., C., Pool, A. & Montiel, O.M. (2001). Flora de Nicaragua Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 85: i-xlii, 1-2666.
    • Noltie, H.J. (2000). Flora of Bhutan 3(2): 457-883. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
    • Balick, M.J., Nee, M.H. & Atha, D.E. (2000). Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize with Common Names an Uses: 1-246. New York Botanic Garden Press, New York.
    • Jørgensen, P.M. & León-Yánez, S. (eds.) (1999). Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 75: i-viii, 1-1181.
    • Aedo, C., Tellería, M.T. & Velayos, M. (eds.) (1999). Bases Documentales para la Flora de Guinea Ecuatorial; Plantas vascularis y hongos: 1-414. CSIC, real jardín Botánico, Madrid.
    • Lee, W.T. (1996). Lineamenta Florae Koreae: 1-1688. Soul T'ukpyolsi: Ak'ademi Sojok.
    • Thaman, R.R., Fosberg, F.R., Manner, H.I. & Hassall, D.C. (1994). The Flora of Nauru Atoll Research Bulletin 392: 1-223.
    • Davidse, G. & al. (eds.) (1994). Flora Mesoamericana 6: 1-543. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F.
    • Dassanayake (ed.) (1994). A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon 8: 1-458. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD., New Delhi, Calcutta.
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    Sources

    Art and Illustrations in Digifolia
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
    'The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet http://www.kew.org/herbcat [accessed on Day Month Year]'. Please enter the date on which you consulted the system.
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Kew Backbone Distributions
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2018. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2018. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0