Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sugarcane looks very much like any other grass in the savanna. Some variants of it still grow wild in the fields, waving in the tropical winds of its native New Guinea. Tall and segmented like bamboo, with its reed-like stalk filled with sweet sap, Saccharum officinarum is at the origin of the main cultivated sugarcane species known today, all of which are hybrids. Cane has been known for at least 2,200 years and is a curiously adaptable plant. A perennial with a deep root system, it can flourish and grow upwards of 15 feet tall. Cane likes a climate where temperatures are above 70°F (21°C) and thrives in places where temperatures register above 81°F (27°C). When temperatures fall below 52–55°F (11–13°C), cane dies. It requires water but will do well when properly irrigated. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and can grow on both hillsides and on flat land.