CANE, a name applied to many plants which have long, slender, reed-like stalks or stems, as, for example, the sugar-cane, the bamboo-cane or the reed-cane. From the use as walking-sticks to which many of these plants have been applied, the name “cane” is improperly given to sticks, irrespective of the source from which they are derived. Properly it should be restricted to a peculiar class of palms, known as rattans, included under the two closely allied genera Calamus and Daemonorops, of which there are a large number of species. The plants are found widely extended throughout the islands of the Indian Archipelago, the Malay Peninsula, China, India and Ceylon; and also in Australia and Africa. They were described by Georg Eberhard Rumpf or Rumphius (1627–1702), governor of Amboyna, and author of the Herbarium Amboynense (6 vols. folio, Amsterdam, 1741–1755), under the name of Palmijunci, as inhabitants of dense forests into which the rays of the sun scarce can penetrate, where they form spiny bushes, obstructing the passage through the jungle. The slender stems rarely exceed an inch in diameter and are generally much smaller. They creep or trail to an enormous length, often reaching 500 or 600 ft., and support themselves on trees or bushes by recurved spines borne on the stalk or back of the midrib of the leaf, or by stiff hooks replacing the upper leaflets. In some cases the midrib is elongated beyond the leaflets to form a long whip-like structure, bearing recurved hooks at intervals. The natives, in preparing the canes for the market, strip off the leaves by pulling the cut plant through a notch made in a tree. The canes always present distinct rings at the junction of the sheathing leaves with the stem. They assume a yellow colour as they dry; and those imported from Calcutta have a glossy surface, while the produce of the Eastern Archipelago presents a dull exterior.
Canes, on account of their lightness, length, strength and flexibility, are used for a great variety of purposes by the inhabitants of the countries in which they grow. Split into thin strips they are twisted to form ropes and ships’ cables, an application mentioned by Captain Dampier in his Voyages. A more important application, however, is for basket-work, and for making chairs, couches, pillows, &c., as the great strength and durability of thin and easily prepared strips admit of such articles being made at once airy, strong and flexible. Much of the beautiful and elaborate basket-work of the Chinese and Japanese is made from thin strips of cane, which are also used by the Chinese for larger works, such as door-mats, houses and sheds.
A very large trade with Western countries and the United States is carried on in canes and rattans, the principal centres of the trade being Batavia, Sarawak, Singapore, Penang and Calcutta. In addition to the varieties used for walking-sticks, whip and umbrella handles, &c., the common rattans are in extensive demand for basket-making, the seats and backs of chairs, the ribs of cheap umbrellas, saddles and other harness-work; and generally for purposes where their strength and flexibility make them efficient substitutes for whalebone. The walking-stick “canes” of commerce include a great many varieties, some of which, however, are not the produce of trailing palms. The well-known Malacca canes are obtained from Calamus Scipionum, the stems of which are much stouter than is the case with the average species of Calamus.