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Sugarcane : Classification

Sugarcane belongs to the genus Saccharum. The word saccharum owes its origin to the Sanskrit word 'sarkara' or 'sakkara' meaning sugar. This became 'sukkar' in Arabic and 'Sakharon' in Greek. In 1753, Linnaeus established this genus Saccharum along with the other crop plants in his master-piece 'Species Plantarum'. It is placed in the family Poaceae, sub-family Panicoidae and tribe Andropogoneae. Traditionally six species have been recognised in the genus Saccharum viz., S. officinarum, S. barberi, S. sinense, S. robustum, S. edule and S. spontaneum. Today, for all commercial purpose of sugar industry, only interspecific hybrids involving chromosomal complements from allied species and allied genera  are grown. Sugarcane today is not a member of Saccharum officinarum but  a Saccharum inter-specific hybrid.

  • 1. Saccharum officinarum: This is the type species of sugarcane. It is identified and is best represented by thick-stemmed, colourful, soft and juicy sweet canes. It has never been found in the wild. Available clones of this species were part of the kitchen gardens of primitive tribes in the Melanesian islands who used these canes for chewing. Owing to the majestic appearance and quality, the Dutch settlers in Java named the cane of their chaoice as 'Noble cane'. It is an octoploid (2n=80), with a basic chromosome numberof x=10. Before the advent of hybrid varieties in the 20th Century, varieties of this species were used by the sugar industry. This species is in general susceptible to most of the pests and diseases of sugarcane. In India, this type of cane is known as Paunda cane (red & white) Saccaharum officinarum L.

  • 2. Saccharum sinense: The sinense or the China cane was brought to India from China by the East India Company around 1796 and was received by Roxburg, who treated it as a new species and named S. sinense.  This species is characterized by long and thin stalks, broad leaves, low to medium sucrose content and early maturity. This species includes 'Pansahi', 'Nargori', and 'Mungo' groups of sugarcane.
  • 3. Saccharum barberi: This is the indigenous cane of India mostly used for jaggery (gur) making and it was named after CA Barber who made a detailed study of this cane. It is characterized by short and thin stalks, narrow leaves, low to medium sucrose content and early maturity. The clones of this group are in general possess deep root system with good tillering habit and are moderate in girth and weight, medium in sugar, high in fibre and well adapted to the biotic and abiotic stresses of the subtropical conditions. In fact, Alexander, The Great  (327 BC) took this type of canes from the state of Punjab to the west. The cultivar "Chunnee" was taken by Kobus to Java and made history in sugarcane breeding.
  • 4. Saccharum spontaneum: the Kans, is well known for its wide variability and adaptiveness to diverse climatic and edaphic conditions. It is a polymophic species and diveristy ranges from annual to perennial type with both sexual and asexual reproduction taking place freely. Many forms are highly rhizomatous; rhizomes growing to several meters even. In general, the group as a whole possesses pithy stalk and hardly any extractable juice. Tillering is profuse, and in general exhibits marked resistance to moisture stress, low temperature and to many pests and diseases.  Chromosome numbers vary from 2n=40 to 128 (x=8, most frequent count 2n=64). A gradual increase in chromosome number is observed from India to Java (Himalayan form 2n=56; Bihar 2n=64, 72; Assam 2n=80; Burma 2n=96; Java 2n= 112, 120, 128). 

The success story of hybrid sugarcane started in 1918 in India with the release of Co 205, a progeny of S. officinarum (Vellai) X S. spontaneum (Coimbatore) in Punjab.

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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.