Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) originated in Melanesia, most probably in New Guinea, from the wild species Saccharum robustum. Indigenous peoples of the area selected sweet, soft forms of Saccharum robustum for chewing and eventually these developed into Saccharum officinarum. Early Pacific island voyagers carried this sugarcane into Indonesia and into the Pacific. A large number of traditional varieties of sugarcane were once grown on Pacific islands. Some of these Pacific island varieties are still grown on a small scale in home gardens and botanical gardens.
The sugarcane varieties grown by modern plantations are complex hybrids of Saccharum officinarum. Large-scale sugar production has been an important economic activity in some places in the Pacific, but it is now declining in many of them. It remains a significant commercial crop throughout the American and Asian tropics.
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Last updated 10 December 2012
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