Sorghum, a genus of grasses, of the tribe andropogoneae, and by some authors included in andropogon. In grasses of this genus the flowers are in open panicles, the spikelets two or three together, the lateral ones sterile, or reduced to' mere pedicels, the central or terminal one fertile; the stems not hollow, as in most grasses. A single species, S. nutans, known as Indian grass and wood grass, having a stalk 3 to 5 ft. high, and a panicle of shining russet-brown flowers, is common throughout most of the states. The name sorghum is in common use for a sugar-producing grass which is a variety of S. vulgare. Sugar cane, saccharum officinarum, is a grass closely related to sorghum, and neither plant is known in the wild state. The common sorghum, S. vulgare, is a poorly defined species, and presents varieties so marked that, did not intermediate forms connect them, it would be difficult to regard them as belonging to the same species. One form, known as Indian millet, and in the East as durra, is cultivated in southern Europe, and in Asia "Minor, India, and other parts of the East, where it takes the place of the cereals of northern climates; the abundant round, hard seeds afford a very white flour, which makes good bread; the seeds are also used for feeding domestic animals.
In the West Indies it is cultivated as food for laborers under the name of Guinea corn, but the grass called by that name in our southern states belongs to a different species. The Indian millet is sometimes cultivated in this country as food for poultry; half a century ago it was introduced as chocolate corn, its seeds being roasted and used as a substitute for coffee; and the seeds are sometimes offered by speculators as Egyptian wheat, or with some other attractive name, at high prices. Another variety, with long straight branches to the panicle and small seeds, is the broom corn. The variety generally known as sorghum (also called sorgho and Chinese sugar cane), is S. vulgare, var. saccharatum, and is remarkable for its very sweet juice; this has been in cultivation in China, and especially in Africa, from very early times; in Africa, where it is called imphee, there are numerous sub-varieties known to the natives by such names as vim-bis-chu-a-pa, nee-a-za-na, oom-see-a-na, etc, differing in size, productiveness, and shape of seed cluster, much as do our varieties of maize.
An attempt was made to introduce sorghum into Europe as early as 1780, by Prof. Arduino of Florence, but it did not receive much attention until 1851, when Count de Montigny, French consul at Shanghai, sent seeds to Paris; it is said that only one seed out of this lot germinated, and the product of this supplied all the seed sown at first in Europe and America. In 1856 some of this seed was obtained from France by the United States patent office, and distributed; but a much greater dissemination was made by Mr. Orange Judd of New York, who imported a large quantity and distributed 25,000 packets to the subscribers to his paper, the "American Agriculturist," in all parts of the country. In 1857 Mr. Leonard Wray, an Englishman, arrived in New York with the seeds of several varieties of imphee from the south of Africa, some of which are named above; they were tested by several persons, especially in the southern states, and were found to be a promiscuous and carelessly collected lot, which at once brought all kinds of imphee into disrepute; and though one or two selections from these varieties have been cultivated, the main crop is of the Chinese variety. The plant grows from 8 to 18 ft. high, and before the seed cluster shows has much the appearance of maize.
In some varieties the branches of the panicle are long, slender, and spreading, in others short and erect, and in some long and drooping to one side; the color of the seed varies from white, through shades of brown, to nearly black; in the true Chinese the panicle is pyramidal, with long, not crowded branches, and the clear brown seeds enclosed in a shining black hull. It will grow wherever Indian corn can be cultivated, but it does not usually ripen its seeds north of lat. 41°; it does best on a light warm soil, which should be well fertilized, but not with coarse manures: it is sown in drills or in hills the same as corn, and the crop should be kept clean in the same manner; the plants when they first come up are small, and may be mistaken for some worthless grass. The stalks are cut up at the ground before hard frosts, stripped of their leaves by the use of a fork or machine made for the purpose, and taken to the mill, or stored until they can be pressed. Its sugar, at least soon after pressing, is almost wholly a form of glucose, and the yield of cane sugar, at least in the plant as grown in this country, is much too small to make its extraction profitable; and the plant is now cultivated for the sirup or molasses.
Well ripened canes yield about one half their weight in juice, of which from 5 to 10 gallons, according to the soil and climate, will make one gallon of sirup; the yield of sirup averages from 150 to 175 gallons to the acre, though in exceptional cases the returns are much larger. The sirup varies, according to the care and skill given to its manufacture, from a dark greenish brown color with a repulsive grassy flavor, to a fine amber-colored, honeylike fluid, which, having no characteristic flavor, is preferred by many to any other sirup. The evaporators now in use allow the juice to be concentrated without undue exposure to heat, while the scum is readily removed; lime is used in correcting the acidity of the juice, which for the finest product is filtered through animal charcoal. The total production of sorghum molasses in the United States was 6,749,123 gallons in 1860, and 16,050,-089 in 1870. Of the latter amount Indiana produced 2,026,212 gallons, Ohio 2,023,427, Illinois 1,960,473, Kentucky 1,740,453, Missouri 1,730,171, Tennessee 1,254,701, and Iowa 1,218,635. As fodder it is not always relished by cattle, and it is now regarded as less valuable than maize. The seeds are fed to poultry, cattle, and hogs, and bread has been made from the flour.
The begasse, or refuse from the press, has been used to make the coarser kinds of wrapping paper; the scum and washings of the evaporators are converted into vinegar. In France sorghum has been cultivated as a source of alcohol.
Chinese Sugar Cane (Sorghum vulgare, var. saccharatum).