Canes or rattans are long, slender stems of certain trailing or climbing palms. They are rated as minor forest products, in spite of the fact that they are probably the most important forest products after timber. They belong principally the palm family of the genusCalamus. The genus Calamus consists of about 390 species found in the evergreen forests of the tropical and sub-tropical regions of which 30 species occur in India, distributed chiefly in the Himalayas, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Andamans.
In wet, tropical evergreen forests, canes form impenetrable thickets generally with a few tall trees standing over them. Some stems are erect, but most are typically trailing or climbing and maybe upto 200 metres or more in length. Canes are usually cylindrical and of uniform thickness, solid, straw yellow to brown in colour, and are more or less covered by spiny leaf-sheaths. The diameter varies in different species from 3 mm to about 60mm. The internodes vary in length and thinness in different species and even in different plants of the same species. The core of the stems, which are soft and spongy, are made up of coarse fibres. The surface is hard smooth and shiny due to a deposit of silica.
Canes thrive best in a compost of equal parts of sandy loam and humus formed by decomposed leaves. They require a warm, moist atmosphere and abundant watering. Canes grow naturally in well-drained soil in light forests, along the edges of streams and fresh-water swamps. Therefore, areas around perennial streams and marshes maybe utilized for its cultivation.
Canes are collected by cutting mature stems at the base and dragging them down from the crowns of supporting trees. The soft terminal portions are discarded. The sheaths are removed either with a chopper or by dragging them against the trunks of trees in the forest. They are dried in the sun or over fire after cutting. Canes deteriorate rapidly if they are not properly dried soon after harvesting. The time required for various Indian canes to reach maturity is uncertain, usually it is around 5 years. The growth of canes for the first few years is slow, as in all palms. At first, they are erect and small and later start climbing or trailing. One or several shoots may arise from a single root. The quality of the first harvest is not very good, but subsequent collections are of better quality.
The best season for harvesting canes is from November to March. This must be done carefully to avoid damage or death to the clumps. Thicker varieties of canes are cut to standard lengths of four metres. Thinner canes are cut in lengths of six metres, which are then folded and tied into bundles for easy transportation. In order to obtain good quality canes, it is essential to process them properly after harvesting. The imported Malaysian canes are often superior to the Indian canes because of their good colour, smoothness, flexibility and durability.
In the northeastern region, all the canes that are harvested are naturally grown canes from the tropical rain forests on the hill slopes. In places like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, naturally-growing cane is abundantly available.
Man has exploited canes for centuries. Their properties of toughness, strength, flexibility and elasticity have made then useful for many purposes. Whole canes are used for furniture, hats, baskets, walking sticks and fishing rods. In some areas, suspension bridges are made entirely of cane. Cane splits are used in basketry, rattaning furniture and extensively for tying and binding.