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Saccharum officinarum L.

Sugarcane, Noblecane

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Toxicity
  5. Description
  6. Germplasm
  7. Distribution
  8. Ecology
  9. Cultivation
  10. Harvesting
  11. Yields and Economics
  12. Energy
  13. Biotic Factors
  14. Chemical Analysis of Biomass Fuels
  15. References


Cane sugar, cane syrup, molasses, wax, and rum are products of sugarcane. Molasses is used as a sweetener, in industrial alcohol, for explosives, synthetic rubber, and in combustion engines. Fresh cane stems are often chewed, especially by poorer people. Sugar is used as a preservative for fruits and meats; cane is also made into a liqueur. The young unexpanded inflorescence of 'tebu telur' is eaten raw, steamed or toasted, and prepared in various ways. Refuse cane (bagasse) is used in the manufacture of paper, cardboard, and fuel. The reeds are made into pens, mats, screens, and thatch. Sugar is a common adjunct to unpleasant medicines. Some races are considered magical and are used ceremoniously. The saw edge of the sugar cane leaf is used to scar the skin, in preparation of tatooing. A mixture of bagasse and molasses (Molascuit) is used as cattle feed. The ground and dried cane (after juice has been expressed) makes an excellent mulch and can be baled and shipped economically, because of its light weight.

Folk Medicine

Reported to be antidote, antiseptic, antivinous, bactericide, cardiotonic, demulcent, diuretic, intoxicant, laxative, pectoral, piscicide, refrigerant, and stomachic. It is a folk remedy for arthritis, bedsores, boils, cancer, colds, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, eyes, fever, hiccups, inflammation, laryngitis, opacity, penis, skin, sores, sore throat, spleen, tumors, and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981). Powdered sugar is used as a 'drawing' agent for granulations and "proud flesh" (Hartwell, 1967–1971) and, in a 1:3 solution in water, for gonorrhea and vaginal discharges (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). The pulped sugar cane is used to dress wounds, and the cane for splints for broken bones; the Malay women use it in childbirth. A decoction of the root of the race of 'tebu lanjong' is used for whooping cough; and the cane juice is given for catarrh. It is used in elephant medicine; the juice is used to 'make an elephant sagacious', and in a poultice for sprains (Burkill, 1966). In India, the plant as well as its juices are used for abdominal tumors.


Per 100 g, the inflorescence is reported to contain 25 calories, 91.0 g water, 4.6 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 3.0 g total carbohydrate, 1.0 g ash, 40 mg Ca, 80 mg P, 2.0 mg Fe, 0 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.08 mg thiamine, 50 mg ascorbic acid. Per 100 g, the leaf is reported to contain 75 calories, 77.5 g water, 1.8 g protein, 0.8 g fat, 17.7 g total carbohydrate, 3.0 g fiber, 2.0 g ash; the stem, per 100 g, is reported to contain 62 calories, 82.5 g water, 0.6 g protein, 0.1 g fat, 16.5 g total carbohydrate, 3.1 g fiber, 0.3 g ash, 8 mg Ca, 6 mg P, 1.4 mg Fe, 0 mg b-carotene, 0.02 mg thiamine, 0.01 mg riboflavin, 0.10 mg niacin, 3 mg ascorbic acid (Duke and Atchley, 1984). Per 100 g, the hay is reported to contain, on a zero-moisture basis, 2.6 g protein, 1.2 g fat, 92.1 g total carbohydrate, 43.1 g fiber, 4.1 g ash, 3600 mg Ca (Miller, 1958).


The plant contains hydrocyanic acid. Sugarcane is a known teratogen; and is known to stimulate somatic mutations (aneuploidy and polyploidy) in plants (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977). Molasses, fed alone, or in large amounts with other feed, may produce diarrhea, colic, kidney irritation, urticaria, exanthema, leminitis, malanders, profuse sweating and paralysis, in domestic stock. Horses seem to be very susceptible, and 1.25 kg daily for 3 weeks, has proved fatal in some; unrefined sugar, also toxic to the horse, may prove lethal. Twenty to fifty percent of unrefined sugar added to oat produces skin swelling, weakness in the hind quarters, paralysis of the urinary bladder, weakness of the heart, and sometimes, death (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962).


Culms 3–5 m tall, 2–3 cm thick, solid juicy, the lower internodes short, swollen; sheaths greatly overlapping, the lower usually falling from the culms; blades elongate, mostly 4–6 cm wide, with a very thick midrib; panicle plumelike, 20–60 cm long, the slender racemes drooping; spikelets about 3 mm long, obscured in a basal tuft of silky hairs 2–3 times as long as the spikelet.


Reported from the Indochina-Indonesia and Hindustani Centers of Diversity, sugarcane or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate anthracnose, bacteria, disease, drought, fungus, herbicide, high pH, heavy soil, laterite, low pH, mildew, sodium, pesticide, rust, sand, smut, virus, waterlog (Duke, 1978). There are many varieties and they are sometimes divided into these races: Mauritius, Otaheite, Bourbon, Batavian, China, Singapore, and Indian Cane. The sugarcanes cultivated in the US are derived chiefly from four species and their hybrids. In the Noble canes (S. officinarum, chromosomes 40), the axis of inflorescence is without long hairs. Chinese canes (S. sinensis Roxb., chromosomes 58 to 60), with long hairs on the axis of inflorescence, are cultivated chiefly for syrup. S. barberi Jewsiet (chromosomes 45 or 46) from northern India, differs from the last in having narrower blades and more slender canes. The wild cane of Asia (S. spontaneum L., chromosomes 56), is used as a basis for hybrids with other species (Hitchcock, 1950). Spurred by decline, investigators hybridized sugarcane. First attempts were restricted to the production of seedlings from crossing different cvs of S. officinarium. Modern cvs involve more interspecific hybridization; most commercial cvs are now tri- or quadrispecific hybrids. Species involved are S. officinarium, S spontaneum, S. sinese, and S. robustum. Fertile progeny have been obtained from intergeneric crosses but no germplasm other than Saccharum has entered commercial hybrids. Variety development form crossing to commercial planting required from 10–13 years for testing and seed-cane increase (Irvine, 1981). (2n = 60, 80, 90)


Originated in the South Pacific Islands and New Guinea. Found throughout the tropics and subtropics. In the US it is cultivated from Florida to Texas. Sugarcane is cultivated as far as north as 36.7° (Spain) and as far south as 31° (South Africa) (Irvine, 1981).


Ranging from Warm Temperate Dry to Moist through Tropical Very Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, sugarcane is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 4.7 to 42.9 dm (mean of 58 cases = 16.7), annual temperature of 16.0 to 29.9°C (mean of 58 cases = 23.7), and pH of 4.3 to 8.4 (mean of 49 cases = 6.3) (Duke, 1978, 1979). Occurs gregariously, growing in sunny areas, on soil unsuitable to trees; needs aeration at the roots and grows in sand but not loam, along sandy banks of rivers that change their course (Burkill, 1966). Requires a hot humid climate, alternating with dry periods, and thrives best at low elevations on flat or slightly sloping land, with stiff loamy or alluvial soil; however, it flourishes in any ordinary good soil, provided the necessary moisture is available (MacMillan, 1925). Sugarcane in commercial production has endured a maximum of 53°C (127°F) and a minimum of -13°C (9°F). The high is endured by standing cane and the low by overwintering stubble. Standing stalks of sugarcane freeze at -4 to -5.5°C (25 to 22°F) depending on cv and length of exposure. Sugarcane will survive and tiller at temperatures below 21°C but stem elongation, which occurs at night, is inhibited by lower temperatures. Saccharum tolerates occasional flooding. While the total water requirement of sugarcane is high, utilization efficiency is also high, with about 250 parts of water used for each part of dry matter produced. Cane is grown on volcanic soils of Hawaii, alluvial soils of Louisiana, muck soils of Florida, and on the bewildering variety of tropical soils in Puerto Rico. There are seven types of sugarcane-growing soils: (1) red soils, rich in iron and porous, but plastic when wet; (2) black soils with a clay subsoil, poorly drained; (3) black soils, with a calcareous subsoil, and highly productive; (4) brown clay loams with a stiff top soil, but responding well to fertilization; (5) alluvial soils of enduring fertility and easy cultivation; (6) sands and sandy loams of low fertility, well drained and of easy cultivation; and (7) soils of organic origin (Irvine, 1981).


Propagated by stem cuttings, but seed produced in the tropics assist in the production of cvs through hybridization. Lime in the soil is considered beneficial for the proper development of the sugar content of the canes. Manuring is indispensible as the crop is an exhausting one. It is generally grown for many years in the same ground, without rotation or rest.


Harvesting commences, according to the cv and climate, 12–20 months from time of planting, the canes becoming tough and turning pale yellow when ready for cutting. They are cut as close to the ground as possible, for the root end of the cane is the part richest in sugar. The rhizomes will continue to crop for at least 3–4 years, sometimes up to 8 or more years (MacMillan, 1925).

Yields and Economics

Sugarcane is cultivated in all tropical and subtropical regions. In terms of biomass harvested (and transported), sugarcane is the world's largest crop with 691 million MT reported in 1977/78 (Irvine, 1981). In 1974, there were 592 million MT cane; 434 milk; 354, wheat; 324 corn, and 225 million MT rice in world production (Irvine, 1981). In 1976, sugar consumption in the US was almost 10 million tons (43 kg per capita) (Ricaud, 1980). In Louisiana alone, the 1976 crop was worth $86 million to the grower, and another $134 million at the processing, refining, and distribution levels. The theoretical maximum yield is 280 MT/ha/yr cane and seven countries average more than 100 (Colombia, Hawaii, Iran, Malawi, Peru, Rhodesia, and Swaziland). Australia, on small plots, has attained more than 75% of the theoretical maximum.


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 25 to 94 MT/ha. Dry matter yield is reported as high as 73 MT/ha (Duke, 1978), but Irvine (1981) notes that average DM yields are under 16 MT/ha/yr. In a Brazilian trial, 236–284 MT fresh material/ha were produced when fertilized with NPK (Bogdan, 1977). Coombs and Vlitos (1978) estimate cane production at 100 MT/ha fresh weight, or 35 MT dry weight. One ton of cane will give 250 kg bagasse which on burning produces 6000 kg of steam. About 4000 kg steam are required to produce 60 to 70 liters alcohol/ton of cane, or 6000 liters alcohol/ha. In 1979, the world low production yield figure was 2,941 kg/ha in Yemen, international production was 56,041 kg/ha, while the world's high production yield was 126,415 kg/ha (in Peru) (FAO, 1980a). The usual conversion figure for calculating residues from production is 0.2. According to Thring (Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London A. 1980. p. 487), if a farmer uses two horses to work his land, it takes 2 acres (4/5 ha) to feed them, but if he uses a 2 h.p. cultivator, operated on alcohol, from sugarcane, and castor oil, it requires only 0.2 acre (4/50 ha) to work it, because he doesn't have to feed his cultivator all the time. Maximum growth rate of sugarcane was 37 g/m2/day for an efficiency of 3.7% (percentage utilization of solar radiation). Averaged out over the whole year, the efficiency is only 1%, in Hawaii producing 67.3 MT/ha at the rate of 18 g/m2/day. With an assumed yield of 44 MT/ha, a growing cost of 16–21 Australian dollars/MT, and a transport cost of $2/MT, the energy inputs in Australian sugarcane are estimated to represent 7–17% of the crop's energy content. Figuring cost of sugarcane at $15/MT, it is estimated to cost $359 to convert a ton to ethanol ($12.30 per GJ compared with $1.25/GJ for Kuwait Oil), i.e. 10 times as expensive as oil as an energy source at the time (Boardman, 1980). Brazil is producing large quantities of alcohol from sugarcane and plans to satisfy its liquid fuel requirements with plant-derived alcohols. In Australia, it would take 20 times more cane than they now have planted (20 x 3.3 x 105 ha) to satisfy Australia's total energy requirements (Boardman, 1980). Recently, Hammond (1977) noted that Brazil, producing 800 million liters of alcohol from cane, needed to augment production by 50 times to eliminate oil imports. But cane requires good land, and is a seasonal crop, with a harvesting period of no more than 100 days. Once cut, it must be processed quickly, leaving the distilleries idle half the year. The residue coefficient, defined as the ratio of the weight of dry matter of residue to recorded harvested weight, ranges from 0.13 to 0.25 (NAS, 1977a). Gaydou et al (1982) come up with surprising data suggesting that the oil from a hectare of oil palms has more than twice the energy (ca 36,000 kwh/ha) of the alcohol produced from a hectare of sugarcane (ca 16,000 kwh). Hopkinson and Day (1980) take a cold look at energetics of sugarcane-ethanol production, comparing the net energy benefit of gasoline from Gulf of Mexico oil at 6:1 to a loss for ethanol produced from sugarcane burning fossil fuel to meet all industrial requirements. With 50:50 mixtures of bagasse and fossil fuels, the ratio is 1.2:1 with all bagasse used 1.5 to 1.8:1. In Brazil, with lower energy inputs and similar yields (ca 54 MT/ha) the ratio is 2.4:1 (21.3 x 106 kcal/ha/yr). A net yield of 53 tons/ha in Louisiana allows for ca 3,500 liters of anhydrous alcohol, 13,250 kg bagasse, and 32,000 kg steam (12,500 more than required for distillation). In Louisiana, sugar yields of nearly 5 MT ha are energetically equivalent to ca 17,500,000 kcal. These results from kcal/ha inputs of nearly 10,000,000, the ratio of output/input = 1.81. Slightly over 3,000,000 go for diesel, nearly 2 million for N, ca 1,300,000 for machinery, 800,000 for seed, 600,000 for herbicides, 550,000 for gasoline, 350,000 for lime, 300,000 for P, 250,000 for K, 200,000 for insecticides, and 150,000 for transportation (Ricaud, 1980). This relatively low ratio of energy output/input should make us scrutinize more carefully Gaydou et al's (1982) calculations showing the perennial oil palm producing nearly twice as much energy per hectare as sugarcane.

Biotic Factors

Sugarcane is susceptible to the following viruses: cucumber mosaic, maize leaf fleck, sugarcane mosaic, tulip breaking, wheat streak mosaic, chlorotic streak, and sereh. These fungi have been reported from sugarcane: Allantospora radicicola, Alternaria sp., Apiospora camtospora, Arthrobotrys suberba, Aspergillus sp., A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. herbariorum, A. nidulans, A. niger, A. penicillioides, A. repens, A. sydowii, A. terreus, a form of A. flavus designated as A. parasiticus on mealybugs infesting cane, Asterostroma cervicolor, Ceratostomella adiposum, C. paradoxa, Cercospora koepkei, C. vaginae, Chytridium sp., Cladosporium herbarum, Clathrus columnatus, Colletotrichum falcatum, C. graminicola, C. lineola, Corticium sasakii, Curvularia sp., Cytospora sacchari, Endoconidiophora adiposa, E. paradoxa, Eriosphaeria sacchari, Fusarium spp., Gibberella fujikuroi, Gloeocercospora sorghi, Gnomonia iliau, Graphium sacchari, Helminthosporium sacchari, H. stenospilum, Himantia stellifera, Hormiactella sacchari, Hypocrea gelatinosa, Ithyphallus rubicundis, Leptosphaeria sacchari, Ligniera vascularum, Lophodermium sacchari, Macrophoma sacchari, Marasmius sacchari, M. stenophyllus, Melanconium sacchari, Microdiplodia melaspora, Mycosphaerella sacchari, M. striatiformans, Myriogenospora aciculisporae, Nectria spp., Neurospora sitophila, Nigrospora oryzae, Odontia saccharicola, Olpidium sacchari, Papularia sphaerosperma, P. vinosa, Periconia sacchari, Phyllosticta sorghina, Physalospora rhodina, P. tucumanensis, Phytophthora erythroseptica, Plectospira gemmifera, Polyporus spp., P. occidentalis, P. sanguineus, P. tulipiferus, Poria ambigua, Psilocybe atomatoides, Pythium spp., P. arrhenomanes, P. graminicola, P. aphanidermatum, P. artotrogus, P. debaryanum, P. dissotocum, P. helicoides, P. irregulare, P. mamillatum, P. monospermum, P. periilum, P. rostratum, P. splendens, P. ultimum, P. vexans, Rhizoctonia ferruginea, R. pallida, R. solani, Rosellinia paraguayensis, R. pulveracea, Saccharomyces zopfii, Schizophyllum commune, Scirrhia 1ophodermioides, Sclerotium rolfsii, Trichoderma lignorum, Tubercularia saccharicola, Vermicularia graminicola, Xylaria apiculata, Nectria flavociliata, N. laurentiana. The following nematodes have been reported on sugarcane: Anguina spermophaga, Helicotylenchus sp. Heterodera spp., Hoplolaimus sp., Meloidogyne sp., Pratylenchus spp., P. pratensis, Rotylenchus spp., R. similes, Scutellonema spp., Trichodorus christie, and Tylenchorhynchus spp. (Golden, p.c. 1984). Bacteria include: Bacillus megatherium, B. mesentericus, Xanthomonas albilineans, X. rubrilineans, X. rubrisubalbicans, and X. vasculorum (Agriculture Handbook 165).

Chemical Analysis of Biomass Fuels

Analysing 62 kinds of biomass for heating value, Jenkins and Ebeling (1985) reported a spread of 17.33 to 16.24 MJ/kg, compared to 13.76 for weathered rice straw to 23.28 MJ/kg for prune pits. On a % DM basis, the bagasse contained 73.78% volatiles, 11.27% ash, 14.95% fixed carbon, 44.80% C, 5.35% H, 39.55% O, .038% N, 0.01% S, 0.12% Cl, and undetermined residue.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw