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Other Uses




Ko - Sugar cane

English name:

Sugar cane
Family name:
Poaceae (Gramineae)
Scientific name:
Saccharum officinarum
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction
Southern Asia or Malaysia
See Also...



Ko was introduced into Polynesia by migrants from southern Asia or Malaysia and was carried from Central Polynesia to Hawaii by Polynesian colonizers early in the settlement era. Originally cultivated in prehistoric times near central New Guinea. The many commercial varieties in Hawaii are interspecific hybrids of Saccharum officinarum, Saccharum spontaneum and Saccharum robustum.


Ko grows best near sea level, but on the leeward side of the Hawaiian islands, it can grow at an altitude of up to 2800 ft. This species is also planted on the embankments of taro lo`is. Ko likes a lot of sunshine, moisture, and rich soil. In dry taro and sweet potato fields on the sloping kula or lower forest zones, ko was planted as hedges between the fields which acted as a windbreak against gusty breezes.

Sugar cane with tassels


Stem: Ko is a large perennial grass, with strong, thick, unbranched stems. The strems have short conspicuous nodes and internodes, are inch or more in diameter and is filled with solid, juicy pulp. Some varieties have yellow or striped stems or It grows in clumps or ratoons.
The leaves are 1 ft. by 1.5 inch, long and narrow, smooth with saw-toothed edges.
Around November, a wandlike flower stalk develops at the end of the stem. It contains feathery, rosy to lavender tassel, fading to silver and about 1-2 feet long, others red or green.
Fruit: Although small seeds develop from the flower, ko is propagated generally from cuttings. Seeds are planted for breeding experiments.


The main use of ko was as a food, in normal times it was a condiment and during famine times it was regarded as a "life saver". Ko is the main source of sugar in tropics and in Hawaii. The fibers from the lower stalks are braided for hats, leaves are used for thatching.

In 1835, the first sugar firm was established in Koloa, Kauai. It has employed several residents of Hawaii and as Degener, Otto said, the sugar cane has brought a peaceful amalgamation of races to the islands as the Hawaiian population was dwindling due to diseases, gold rush in California and the very enticing whaling industry was at its height. As workers in the ko fields were so few, Kamehameha brought in several people from many different nations.

Ko yields several valuable byproducts such as molasses, alcohol, bagasse, fertilizer and cattle field. Yeast grown in molasses became a valuable supplementary human food. Juice extracted from the cane toasted over an open fire is fed to nursing babies. Medicinally, the ko juice serves as a sweetening agent for many remedy recipes and is usually chewed after taking an unpalatable medicine. Hawaiians have named 40 different varieties like ho`opa`opa`a and manu-lele. There area several sayings associated with sugar cane; For example: "the white sugar cane has grown" is equivalent to a person who has grown old. "Like the hard white cane of Kohala, it will hurt your mouth when eaten" means it looks easy but is hard to do.


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