Sugar Cane in Illinois?

Do you remember the old commercial for C&H sugar?

C&H. Pure cane sugar. From Hawaii. Growing in the sun.

Did you know you can grow sugar cane in Illinois too?

Ok, maybe not as a cash crop or in the quantities needed to process granulated sugar. But you can grow it.

This past summer, on Five Feline Farm, Tohono O’odham “Sugar Cane” was one of the experimental crops. Tall slender canes topped with a red seed head. The cane looks similar to bamboo although not as fast growing and not quite as tough.


Sugar cane is different from sorghum which is a much more common plant in this area. Sorghum looks like its cousin sugar cane, but the sap of the sorghum plant boils down into a thick dark syrup with a distinctly different flavor. Sorghum molasses is an acquired taste, but full of healthy minerals. Sugar cane is filled with a sweet juice that when grown commercially is processed and refined into granulated sugar.

Shaving off the hard outer layer without cutting into the sweet heart of the cane is an art. Most of the time I had a nice section skinned and the next cut went completely through the sweet center. There was enough though to sample. Chewing on the middle of the cane gives a burst of sweetness and a desire for more. It was more than just that short experience. It was a rocket ride down memory lane to Hawaii. Roadside vendors in Hawaii sell short sections of peeled sugar cane ready to chew. Warm sweet cane juice washes through your mouth as you watch tropical waves spill over the beach. There’s a reason the place is referred to as paradise.

Back to Illinois.

Sugar cane will never be a commercial crop in Illinois but it is a fun plant to grow. After chewing a sweet sample, the extra canes will be used like bamboo and seeds saved for next year.

A renewable source of fun.