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Sugarcane

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to Swifts

The sugarcane (Saccharum officinale) is a 12-26 ft tall (4-8 m), perennial, tropical grass (family Poaceae). The tough, semi-woody stems of sugarcane are up to 2 in (5 cm) in diameter, with leafy nodes and a moist internal Harvesting sugarcane. Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission. pith containing 15-20% sucrose-sugar. The sugar concentration is highest just before the plant flowers, so this is when harvesting occurs. The plants are propagated by cuttings placed into the ground, but a single planting can last several harvest rotations.

Sugarcane is thought to have originated in southern Asia, where it has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years. It is believed to be a cultivated hybrid of various species of Saccharum, which are still wild plants in South and Southeast Asia. These wild progenitors include S. barbari, S. robustum, S. sinense, and S. spontaneum.

In 1999, about 48.4 million acres (19.6 million ha) of sugarcane were cultivated worldwide, and the total production was 1.41 billion tons (1.28 billion tonnes). Sugarcane is used to manufacture sucrose-sugar, and accounts for about 60% of the global supply. The sucrose is used to manufacture many secondary products, such as molasses and alcohol. It is also an ingredient in innumerable prepared foodstuffs, such as candy, chocolate, carbonated beverages, ice cream, and other sweetened foods. The pressed remains of sugar extraction can be fed to cows and other livestock.

Bill Freedman

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