UNDER the name of Sorgo, several congenerous plants from the East Indies have been described from remote antiquity. Their agricultural value, fully appreciated in husbandry for the benefit of their seeds and juices, attracted teh attention of the farmer and naturalist.
Pliny the elder, who flourished in the first century, describes, in his 18th book, chap. 7, a Sorgo plant under the name of milium quod ex India in Italiam invectum nigro colore, (millet, of black color, imported from the East Indies to Italy.) That name, milium, or millet, signifies thousands, alluding to the numberless seeds produced by these plants.
Fuchius, of Belgium, describes, in his History of Plants, in 1542, a plant under the name of Shorghi, which is precisely the true popular name of the Sorgo in the East Indies.
Jerome Fragus, in describing the plants of Germany, in the year 1552, gives the description of the same plants under the name of Panicum Dioscorides et Plinii, (bread millet of Dioscorides and Pliny.) Then the plant of Pliny was that of Dioscorides, the Greek, and already cultivated in Germany. Conrad Gesner, in his Hortus Germania, (German garden,) in 1591, names the same plant Sorghum. Matthioli, an Italian, in his Commentaries on Dioscorides, in 1595, describes it under the name of Milium Indicum, (Indian millet.) Lobel, a Belgian, in 1576, describes that plant as the Sorgo melica Italorum, (Sorgo, or honey of the Italians;) and, followed by Dodon, a Belgian, who, seven years later, 1583, in his Pemptades, names it melica, sive sorgum, (honey, otherwise sorgo.) This Latin name, melica, means pertaining to honey, which is the mele of the Italians, from which is derived melligo, (honeyish.) The synonyms of the last two authors are of great importance, to show that there was in Italy, besides the Indian millet, (Durra corn, sorghum vulgare,) another species which has been confounded with it, and which corresponds exactly with the Chinese sugar-cane; and if any doubt still exists, the following line from Lucian, a Roman writer, will entirely establish the fact : "Quique bibunt tenera dulces ab arundine succos," (those who drink in sucking the tender sweet stalks of canes.) See also Dod. Pemp., 4, 1, 27, and Matthioli, book 2, chap. 9. Lonicer, a German, 1589, and Gerarde, English, 1597, describe several varieties of these plants. Bester, a German, 1613, also describes it as the Milium Plinii, which plainly shows that this plant from Italy has been cultivated in Germany, Belgium, and England from the time of Pliny to the seventeenth century.
In 1623, the botanical reformer, Gasper Bauhin, in his Pinax, a work of forty years' labor, includes all the above names as synonyms, under the descriptive phrase of milium arundinaceum subrotundo semine sorgo nominatum, (millet cane, with nearly round seeds, called sorgo.) With the observations that the seed varies in color, from rufous to black, and from white to yellow, these names represent one or more species. In reading the above authors we found that the uses of these plants were various; under the name of millet they were used for making bread and feeding poultry; in some other instances, but in the middle centuries principally, when the Romans, conquerors of the world, came to change their classical language into the present Italian, that same plant, the millet, presenting its Indian name, sorgo, was also called melica, from the sweet taste of its juice. As the true Indian millet, (sorghum vulgare,) which is our Durra corn, does not possess the same sweetness as the present Chinese cane, it proves that the ancient botanists have confounded together the Indian millet and the Chinese cane.
Through Asia, by Egyptian and Syrian commerce, and from Italy to the coast of north Africa, the Indian sugar-cane has spread on African soil, where it has created the imphee races, so very different in appearance from the Chinese plants ; and these varieties will, by the new impetus of cultivation, still further increase their polymorphous tendencies in the same manner as our wheat, apples, cabbage, &c. From Bauhin to the present day the botanists have been more definite in the determination of these plants. Linnaeus ranges them, in his genus Holcus, under the specification of H. sorghum for the Indian millet, and H. saccharatum for the Chinese cane.
Persoon, after a careful study of these plants, has divided the Linnæan genus Holcus to form a new one, which he calls Sorghum.
The sorgo sugar-cane belongs to the gramineous family, and is included in the genus
Etymology.—Name from shorghi, the popular appellation for the plants of
this genus in the East Indies.
Generic characters.—Spikelets, (flowers with their husks at the end of the small branches,) two or three together on the slender ramifications of the panicles, (bunches,) the lateral ones abortive or reduced to a mere pedicel, the middle or terminal ones fertile. Glumes, (husk, hull,) coriaceous, closely bearded or downy, becoming indurated after the anthesis, (blooming,) with or without awn. Palea, (inner husk,) membranous ; stamens, three ; styles, two, with bearded stigmas. Stout, tall grasses, with solid stocks with pith. Specific name.—Sorghum saccharatum.
Milium quod ex India, in Italians invectum nigro colore------------ Pliny.
Sorgo, melica Italorum--------------------------------------------- Lobel.
Melica, sive sorgum------------------------------------------------ Dodon.
Melica forte a melica Bagina, aliis saginanda calamagrostis Dioscoridis --- Cœsalpin.
Milium arundinaceum subrotundo semine, sorgo nominatum----------- G. Bauhin
Milium Indicum arundinaceo caule, granis flavescentibus-------- Herman.
Holcus saccharatus---------------------------------------------- Linnæus.
Milium Indicum sacchariferum altissimum seminibus ferrugineo------- Breynius
Holcus dochua------------------------------------------- Forskal.
Holcus caffrarum-------------------------------------- St. Clair
Andropogon saccharatum-------------------- Kuntz.
Sorghum saccharatum-------------------------- Persoon.
Pain des anges, (angel's bread.)
Description.—Root, fibrous; culm, (stock,) thick, stout, solid, with pith, from six to twelve feet high ; leaves, lanceolate, acuminate, downy at the base ; flowers, forming a large, more or less diffusely spreading panicle, with the. branches more or less verticillate, often nodding when in fruit ; glumes, (husk,) of the perfect flower, hairy, downy, and persistent. From the East Indies. Cultivated.
This species offers numerous varieties, which form two races, the Chinese and the Imphee. The Chinese race is represented only by a single plant, which has preserved all the above specific characters. The Imphees are numerous, and their variations are mostly distinguished by their compact panicle, and by the length of their seeds relatively to the glumes, (husk.)
How to use this table.—Compare a fully ripe branch of sorgo with the descriptions placed at each end of the braces, commencing with the words, "Ripe seed," placed behind and at the middle of the first brace; then applying the phrases at the ends of teh brace, the reader will retain and follow the one which agrees with the seeds of the bunches leading to another brace, and so on until the name of the variety of sorgo in examination is reached; then, with that name, refer to the description given in its proper place.
NATURAL CLASSIFICATION AND DESCRIPTION OF THE VARIETIES OF SORGO.1 Race.
Panicle compound, compact, rather cylindrical, about nine inches long, with the branches ascending and loosely appressed to the axis. Glumes black, mostly downy, principally towards the apex, oblong, acute, concave-convex, the inner one slightly shorter and more round ; from the base to the middle they are smooth and shining, open at the top, showing the seed, which is oblong-ovate, pointed at both ends, rufous or yellowish, as long as the glumes, plano-convex, crowned at the summit by the remains of the style, presenting at the base, on the flattened side, a small cavity, in which is seen a small black spot.
Panicle compound, compact, cylindrical, about nine inches long, with the branches strictly erect and appressed to the axis. Glumes black, with a slight purplish tinge, mostly smooth, oblong, ovate, pointed at both ends, and very acute at the apex, concave-convex, open and showing the seed ; the inner one slightly smaller, and the outer one keeled on the back. Seeds rufous or sandy color, as long as the glumes, plano-convex, crowned at the summit by the remains of the persistent style, and presenting at its base a small cavity, in which is seen a small black spot.
Here several sub-varieties, with the seeds longer than the
glumes, take place after the last two type varieties ; the shape
and the color of their panicle is nearly identical, but white ;
the branches are erect at their base, their summits are more or
less recurved in fruit, and their glumes more or less smooth ;
they appear to be hybridizations forms between the early sorgo,
Oom-se-a-na, white imphee, and the Liberian.
The San-go-ka-hea, by its downy glumes, appears to bo a modification of the early sorgo and the Oom-se-a-na.
The Slagonda, Koom-ba-na, E-hoth-la, Ee-a- moo-da, Lim -moo-ma-na, E-en-gha, Boo-e-a-na are modifications between the Liberian and oom-se-a-na.
The Boom-va-na is a modification of the last sub-varieties and the while sorgo, which has inherited from it the color of its panicles.
Variety D.—Albescens, (whitish.)
Panicle decompound, very compact, about nine inches long, the branches very loosely appressed to the axis. Glumes ovate, acute, concave-convex, smooth ; the outer one purplish and keeled, the inner one always whitish and shorter, both widely open. Seed large, round, ovate dingy white, plano-convex, crowned with the remains of the persistent styles, and presenting at the base a small cavity, in which is seen a small black spot.
Glumis clausis = Glumes closed
Variety E.—Nigerrima, (deep black.)
Panicle compound, flattish, wedge shaped, about six inches long, the branches thread-like, and more or less appressed to the axis. Glumes purple-black, smooth and shining from the base to the top, and downy along the edges, rather large, ovate, concave-convex, acute, longer than the seed, and closed ; the inner one slightly smaller and keeled on the back. Seeds mostly hidden in the closed glumes, oblong, ovate, plano-convex, crowned by the base of the persistent styles, and presenting at the base of the flattened side a small, cavity, in which is seen a small black spot.
Variety F.— Cerasina, (cherry color.)
Shla-goo-ca.Panicle compound, rather slender, about fifteen inches long, the branches erect from the base, moderately spreading and drooping at the top in fruit. These branches are regularly whorled, leaving long intervals along the rachis between each whorl. Glumes as long as the seed, reddish yellow or cherry color, mostly downy ; they are closed, round, ovate, acute, convex-concave, the outer one even, and the inner one keeled on the back. Seed round, ovate, dingy yellow toward the base, and clear purplish above, crowned at the top with the remains of the persistent style, presenting at the base a small cavity, in which is seen as a small black spot.
Variety G.—Liberia, (Liberia.)
Panicle supra-decompound, angular cylindric, obtuse, very compact, about six inches long, the branches short and appressed to the rachis ; glumes shorter than the seed, mostly smooth, shining, orbicular and open. Seeds longer than the glumes, round, obovate, tapering at the base, and much obtuse at the summit, reddish yellow toward the base, cherry color on the upper part, and slightly crowned by the vestiges of the styles, presenting at the base a small cavity, in which is seen a small black spot.