Saccharum officinarum
Common Name: sugar cane 
Type: Ornamental grass
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: Tropical southeastern Asia, Polynesia
Zone: 9 to 10
Height: 5.00 to 8.00 feet
Spread: 5.00 to 8.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: White to gray
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Black Walnut, Air Pollution

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-10 where it is grown in consistently moist but well-drained soils in full sun. Propagate by division or rooting stem sections. Sugar cane is commercially grown as an annual and is propagated from stem cuttings. Species plants have little ornamental value. Cultivars with colorful foliage may be grown as annuals or in pots overwintered indoors.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Saccharum officinarum, known as sugar cane, is a large tufted perennial grass that is probably native to Southeast Asia. It grows to 15-20’ tall in tropical/semi-tropical areas, but to 5-8’ tall as an annual in cool climates. Large stems (to 2” diameter) are jointed like bamboo. Stems contain a sweet juice that may be extracted for production of sugar or molasses. Large, arching, rich green leaf blades have sharp edges and sharp points. Young stems are covered with prickles. White to gray flower spikes bloom in later summer to early fall. Plants rarely flower when grown as annuals. Sugar cane may have been first grown for its sweet stems in New Guinea around 4000 B.C. It later surfaced in India. Arabs introduced it to the Mediterranean region in around 700 A. D. Spanish and Portuguese explorers spread it around the world in voyages during the late 1400s and 1500s (Columbus reportedly brought it to the Caribbean on his second voyage in 1493). Although sugar cane is commercially grown (not species plants but complex hybrids involving several different species) around the world for production of sugar (in the U.S. principally in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii), it is also now beginning to enter the world of horticulture through cultivars featuring colorful stems and leaves. ‘Pele’s Smoke’ features smoky purple foliage and stems. Of further note is the fact that sugar cane is also now being commercially grown in some areas (particularly in Brazil since the mid 1070s) for production of ethanol (extracted sugars are fermented). Sugar cane reportedly produces about twice as much ethanol per acre as corn. After the sugar has been extracted, the remaining waste products (bugasse) can be used for making paper/cardboard, biomass fuel or cattle feed. Production of biodiesel from sugar cane is expected in the near future.

Genus name comes from the Greek word sakcharon meaning the sweet juice of sugarcane which came from an Asiatic word, seemingly the Malay singkara.

Specific epithet means of shops, generally apothecaries.

Problems

Potential insect problems include moth caterpillars, borers, termites, spittlebugs, mealybugs and beetles. Potential disease problems include rots, smut and red stripe. Potential virus problems include ratoon stunting and grassy shoot.

Garden Uses

Specimen or group. Interesting annual accent. Large container. Commercial production of sugar and molasses plus biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel).