Sugarcane, or Saccharum officinarum, is a tropical grass that is the source of about 75 percent of the world's sugar supply. It has a long life cycle, requiring warm weather and heavy rainfall or irrigation throughout its growing season.
Sugarcane is usually planted from 12-inch pieces of stems of existing plants, although some growers begin with seeds. The grower digs furrows, inserts the cut stems and then covers them with a small amount of soil. For large-scale growing situations, machinery is available that cuts and plants the stems or canes.
During the nine to 24 months sugarcane takes to grow to maturity, it needs a large quantity of water. Sugarcane needs up to 60 inches of rain or irrigation while it is actively growing, but it later needs no rain or irrigation during its ripening phase. It also needs full sun.
Eight to 12 months after planting the sugarcane, the plant reaches about 15 feet in height. It then sends up tall flower stalks, which contain many seeds. At this time in its life cycle, the sugarcane plant has a high content of sucrose.
Sugarcane fields used to be burned to eliminate leaves and weeds. Now, harvesting machinery travels through the rows, removing unwanted weeds and leaves. Harvest typically occurs between June and December, which is a dry period for many tropical locales.