Photograph of sugarcane plants in flower. The photo shows the tops of sugarcane plants with elongated green leaves and feather-like inflorescences.

Sugarcane quick facts

Page snapshot: Quick facts about sugarcane: What it is, where it came from, how it is used, how it is grown, and where it is grown.

Topics covered on this page: What is sugarcane?; Where did sugarcane come from?; How is sugarcane used?; How is sugarcane grown?; Where is sugarcane grown?; Resources.

Credits: Funded by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Page by Elizabeth J. Hermsen (2023).

Updates: Page last updated February 17, 2023.

Image above: Cultivated sugarcane plants in flower. Photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, image cropped and resized).

What is sugarcane?

Sugarcane is a tall tropical grass in the genus Saccharum that is grown for the sugar-rich juice in its stem. 

Photograph of a sugarcane field in Queensland, Australia. The photo shows a row of sugarcane plants running from left background to right foreground. A harvested area of the field is in front of them.
Photograph of bundles of sugar cane near a market stall. The photo shows multiple bundles of sugarcane standing upright, with a few bundles laying the on the ground to the left. The sugarcane stalks are purple with regularly spaced with bands. Elongated leaves are born near the tops of the sugarcane stems.

Bundles of sugarcane that have been harvested standing near a food stall. Photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari (Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, image cropped and resized).

Where did sugarcane come from?

Scientists think that sugarcane was first domesticated on the island of New Guinea around 10,000 years ago. Modern cultivated sugarcanes are hybrids of noble cane (Saccharum officinarum), the species originally domesticated in New Guinea, and other species of domesticated and wild sugarcanes from Asia and Oceania.

Map showing the location of the island of New Guinea, which is a large island north of Australia.
Photograph of the landscape of New Guinea. The photo shows a mountainous, forested landscape.

How is sugarcane used?

Sugarcane is cultivated as a source of sucrose, the type of sugar that makes up crystalline refined sugar (also called table sugar or white sugar). The sucrose in sugarcane accumulates in the stem of the plant (the cane), which is crushed or ground to extract the sugary juice. In small quantities, the juice is prepared and drunk fresh. Most sugarcane, however, is processed to produce sugar and/or other products, like cane syrup and molasses. Sugarcane juice and molasses can be fermented to produce ethanol, which is used to make alcoholic beverages like rum and also ethanol-based biofuels. The fibrous parts of the sugarcane stem, called bagasse, are often burned in sugar mills and biofuel plants to provide energy. Sugarcane products and the byproducts of sugarcane processing have a variety of other agricultural and industrial uses.

Photograph of a pile of white sugar. The photo shows white crystalline sugar on a white background.
Photograph of fresh sugarcane juice is a stainless steel bowl at a night market in Cambodia. The photo shows an opaque yellowish liquid in a bowl with a blue mug sitting on its side in the liquid. A grinder is next to the bowl of liquid.

Fresh sugarcane juice, Phnom Penh Night Market, Cambodia. Photo by Mx. Granger (Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0 Universal/Public Domain Dedication).

Photograph showing people making jaggery, a traditional type of minimally processed sugar, in Marayoor, India. Sugarcane syrup is cooking in a pan in the lower left corner of the image, whereas brown syrup that has been thickened by evaporation is sitting in a rectangular pan in the floor at the center of the image.

People making jaggery, a traditional type of minimally processed sugar, in Marayoor, India. Sugarcane syrup is cooking in the pan in the lower left corner, whereas syrup that has been thickened by evaporation is in the rectangular pan in the floor at the center. Photo by Rameshng (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, image resized).

Photograph of rum on shelves in a liquor store. The photo shows numerous glass bottles of rum, some transparent and some opaque, on a shelving unit in a store.

Rum display at a liquor store, U.S.A. Photo by O'Dea (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, image cropped and resized).

Photograph of a fuel pump in Brazil that dispenses both petroleum-based fuel and ethanol fuel. The handle that dispenses ethanol fuel is labeled "etanol" and is green in color.

A fuel pump that can dispense both gas and sugarcane-derived ethanol, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Mariordo/Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, image resized).

Photograph of a sugarcane bagasse bailing machine in Hainan, China. The photo shows beige fibrous material packed into rectangular blocks and tied with red plastic emerging from a chute. Piles of bagasse can be seen in the background.

How is sugarcane grown?

Like other grass crops, sugarcane is grown in cultivated fields. Unlike grasses grown for grain, sugarcane is grown from stems or pieces of stems to produce clones of previous crops. Sugarcane may be grown as a perennial crop, meaning that it is harvested and then the plants are allowed to regenerate to produce one or more additional crops before the crop must be replanted. Because sugarcane is not grown for grain, pollination is not important to crop yield.

Photograph of people planting pieces of sugarcane stalk in furrows by hand. The photo shows a plowed field with parallel furrows in it. Pieces of sugarcane stem have been laid in a line in each furrow. In the Background, people can be seen working in the field.

People planting billets (pieces of sugarcane stem) in furrows, Sevangala, Sri Lanka, 2012. Photo by Ebaran (Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, image resized).

Photograph of a field of sugarcane in Brazil. The photo shows a field of tall sugarcane with green leaves on a flat plain with two hills rising in the background. One of the hills is mostly denuded, whereas the other is partially forested.

A field of sugarcane, Alagoas, Brazil, 2021. Photo by Otávio Norgueria (Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

Photograph of machines harvesting sugarcane in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The photo shows a yellow sugarcane harvester with a chute extended over a trailer pulled by a tractor. The shoot expels pieces of sugarcane stem into the trailer. The trailer in the photo is piled high with pieces of sugarcane stems.

Where is sugarcane grown?

Sugarcane is cultivated in the tropics to subtropics, because sugarcane cannot withstand winter freezes and takes a relatively long time (often a year or more) to reach the harvest stage. Today, sugarcane is the world's number one commodity crop, followed by maize. The top producers are Brazil and India, followed by China, Pakistan, Thailand, and Mexico. In the United States, sugarcane is currently grown commercially in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawai'i.

World map shaded in various intensities of green by country to indicate the amount of sugarcane produced in 2020. The darkest countries on the map are Brazil, India, Pakistan, China, and Thailand, which each produced at least 69.7 million tons of sugarcane.

World map of sugarcane production in 2020 by country. Map from Our World in Data (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, image resized).



Benedict, L. F. 2005. Planting sugarcane: Whole stalks versus billets. LSU AgCenter, May 31, 2005.


Hogarth, M., and P. Allsopp (eds.). 2000. Manual of canegrowing. Fergies Printers, Brisbane. Free online version:

Levetin, P., and D. S. McMahon. 2016. Plants and Society, 7th ed. McGraw Hill Education, New York.

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Stewart, Amy. 2013. The Drunken Botanist. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.