From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

SUGARCANE (saccharum officinarum). The art of cultivating the sugarcane has been practised in China from the highest nntiquity. It was unknown to the ancient Egyptians, Jews, Greeks, or Romans, and did not pass into Arabia till the end of the thirteenth century. From Arabia it was carried into Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia. The Moors obtained it from Egypt, and the Spaniards from the Moors. In the fifteenth century, the cane was introduced into the Canary islands by the Spaniards, and into Madeira by the Portuguese, and thence into the West India islands and the Brazils. Previous to the year 1466, sugar was known in England chiefly as a medicine ; and, though cultivated in a few places on the Mediterranean, it was not more generally used on the continent. Now, in point of importance, it ranks next to wheat and rice, among all the products of the vegetable world, and has become the first article of maritime commerce. The Atlantic has been the principal theatre of this trade, which, more than any other circumstance, contributed to give a new spring to commerce in Europe, and to engraft the curse of slavery upon the new world. The sugarcane, like the bamboo and Indian corn, belongs to the family of the grasses. It grows to the height of seven or eight feei^ or more, and its broad leaves, and large, silky panicles, give it a beautiful aspect. The stems are very smooth, shining, and filled with a spongy pith : the flowers are small, and very abundant, clothed externally with numerous silky hairs. The sugarcane flowers only after the lapse of an entire year. In the West Indies, it is propagated by cuttings from the root end, planted in hills or trenches in the spring or autumn. The cuttings root at the joints under ground, and from those above, send up shoots, which, in eight, twelve, or fourteen months, are from six to ten feet leng? and fit to cut down for the mill. A plan tation lasts from six to ten years. (For the process of making sugar, see the preceding article.) The juice of the sugarcane is so palatable and nutritive, that, during the sugar harvest, every creature which partakes freely of it, whether man or animal, appears to derive health and vigor from its use. The meagre and sickly negroes exhibit at this season a surprising alteration ; and the laboring horses, oxen, and mules, though constantly at work, yet, as they are allowed to eat, almost without restraint, of the refuse plants and scummings from the boiling house, improve infinitely more than at any other period of the year. The sugarcane is now cultivated in all the warm parts of the globe. In the U. States it flowers, but does not ripen seed. Its growth is constant, but varies in rapidity according to the situation, the season, or the weather. The variety from Otaheite has lately elicited some attention, as it is said to succeed in soils too poor for the common variety, and to produce four crops, while the other yields only throe : the crystallization is also more regular. Sugar is now cultivated to considerable extent in the I J. States, chiefly in the southern parts of Louisiana, about the mouths of the Mississippi; and a sufficient supply for home consumption might be obtained in that quarter. The consumption of England alone now amountsoto upwards of 400,000,000 pounds, which gives an average of about thirty pounds for each individual. In some parts of the interior; sugar is manufactured to considerable extent from the sap of two species of maple. This is superior to the common brown sugar of the West Indies, but probably will eventually be superseded by that article, on account of its cheapness. (See Maple.)