Southern Matters

Southern Matters

The University of Florida's
Institute of Food and Agricultural Science,

In my opinion, it is not idle hyperbole to claim that, in large measure, our historical prosperity results from a large arable land mass, enough water if we use it wisely, a low population density until now, and the research and extension arms of the land-grant universities. One activity of this system is to provide limited propagation materials of superior cultivated varieties to growers or commercial propagators. It is therefore of interest to show this system in action.

Whichever cane variety a person enjoys growing and making syrup from is the "right" variety for that person. Indeed, I grow and enjoy plants that are not on any official recommended list. Some of these are fine plants, but I enjoy others because they remind me of some person, place, or time or have other merits. Notwithstanding-as I have too often learned the hard way-the safest bet is to stick with recommendations of the professionals. The recommendations made by the extension service are based on years of evaluations under different conditions for desired qualities such as disease resistance, drought tolerance, and quality of the product for the intended purpose, in this case, syrup. Special considerations for the syrup maker might include a favorable sugar ratio, relatively low content of tannins (which contribute to color), a coherent pith (so tiny fragments of cane will not be mixed in with the juice), and, for most of us, early maturity.

The three recommended varieties for the production of sugar-cane syrup, as described elsewhere (Georgia Bulletin 868 and Florida Agronomy Facts 156), are:

  • CP 36-111 - green to greenish yellow; may turn purplish. Not as resistant to lodging and not as productive as the other two, but the syrup is considered to be of higher quality.
  • CP 52-48 - pale green with a grayish/pinkish waxy bloom. Very stiff, resistant to lodging.
  • CP 67-500 - bluish stalks with a heavy waxy bloom. The most productive in terms of syrup production (750 gallons/acre with plant cane) and fairly resistant to lodging.

(CP, or C.P., stands for Canal Point (Florida), a testing site for sugar cane varieties developed by the USDA. Other prefixes on cane varieties are POJ (Proefstation Oost Java), NG (New Guinea), F (Florida), and Co. (Coimbatore, India.)

(As C.P. 67-500 is the most recently registered (Crop Science 9:525 (1969) of the government syrup cultivars, it is of interest to extract from Broadhead and Coleman's description. Thus, they indicate that it grows erect, has heavy wax and a bluish stalk. The stalks are shorter, but of larger diameter than C.P. 36-111, the clone they indicated to be the leading syrup cultivar then. They ranked it superior in resistance to lodging, tolerance to late freezes and resistance to Strain B of the sugar cane mosaic virus (but not immune). They found the processing qualities and yield of syrup per acre to be the same for the two cultivars.)

The means by which propagation materials are distributed varies by location. The North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy, Florida, is a branch of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. The station distributes both chewing and syrup cane to Florida citizens on a first-come first-serve basis. I arrived well before opening on the first Tuesday in November, 2001, but I was near the end of the line.

Slide 1 shows the line-up, a string of vehicles numbered by order of registration. This photograph does not quite capture the competitiveness of the event, but I admit to being a bit shy under such circumstances. As the long shadows tell, this is an early morning photograph. Beginning at 8:00 am, participants are admitted to the cane patch and are allowed to cut 25 stalks of any variety. (For perspective, 3000-4000 stalks are required to plant one acre.) Participants must agree to use it only for propagation purposes.


Slide 2 is one view of the plot in which about 15 varieties of cane are grown. Slide 3 is a view of the plot about two hours after the above photograph was taken. Slide 4 is my load of cane. Thanks very much to the staff for making this propagation material available!