Saccharum, sugarcane, is a genus of 35 to 40 species of tall perennial grasses (family Poaceae, tribe Andropogoneae), including Saccharum officinarum, which is the major source of cane sugar (eFloras.org 2011). Native to warm temperate to tropical regions of Asia, they have stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar, and measure 2 to 6 meters (6 to 19 feet) tall. All sugar cane species interbreed, and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.
Sugarcane products include table sugar, falernum, molasses, rum, cachaça (the national spirit of Brazil), bagasse (fiber left over from the sugar refining process that can be used to make paper and cardboard) and ethanol. Sugarcane is an important industrial crop of tropical and subtropical regions and is cultivated on close to 20 million hectares in more than 90 countries. Worldwide production in 2009 was 1.67 billion tons; Brazil, India, and China were the leading producers (FAOSTAT 2011).
Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), an economically important seed plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum as well as many forage crops. The main product of sugarcane is sucrose, which accumulates in the stalk internodes. Sucrose, extracted and purified in specialized mill factories, is used as raw material in human food industries or is fermented to produce ethanol, a low pollution fuel. Ethanol is produced on a large scale by the Brazilian sugarcane industry (da Rosa 2005, Duke 1983).
Some Saccharum species, such as S. ravennae are grown as ornamentals, and may become invasive outside their native ranges. S. ravennae is invasive in California (Cal-IPC 2011), and S. spontaneum is invasive in Hawaii and in some Pacific Islands (PIER 2011).
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