They always are a familiar article of a gentleman’s dress in warm climates. The cane, quite strictly speaking, in fact has its origin in warm countries. For properly speaking, the word cane should be restricted in its application to a peculiar class of palms, known as ratans, included under the closely allied genera Calamus and Daemonorops, of which there are a large number of species. These plants, the Encyclopedia tells us, are found widely extended throughout the islands of the Indian Archipelago, the Malay Peninsula, China, India and Ceylon; and examples have also been found in Australia and Africa. The learned Rumphius describes them, 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. They rise to the top of the tallest trees and fall again so as to resemble a great length of cable, adorned, however, with the most beautiful leaves, pinnated or terminating in graceful tendrils. The plants creep or trail along to an enormous length, sometimes, it is said, reaching five hundred feet. Two examples of Calamus verus, measuring respectively two hundred and seventy feet and two hundred and thirty feet, were exhibited in the Paris exhibition of 1855.
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. Doubtless to the vulgar a Malacca cane is merely a Malacca cane. There are, however, in this interesting world choice spirits who make a cult of Malacca canes, just as some dog fanciers are devotees of the Airedale terrier. Such as these know that inferior Malacca canes are, as the term in the cane trade is, “shaved”; that is, not being of the circumference most coveted, but too thick, they have been whittled down in bulk. A prime Malacca cane is, of course, a natural stem, and it is a nice point to have a slight irregularity in its symmetry as evidence of this. The delicious spotting of a Malacca cane is due to the action of the sun upon it in drying. As the stems are dried in sheaves, those most richly splotched are the ones that have been at the outside of the bundle. What new strength to meet life’s troubles, what electric expansion of soul, come to the initiated upon the feel of the vertebra of his Malacca cane!
The name of cane is also applied to many plants besides the Calamus, which are possessed of long, slender, reed-like stalks or stems, as, for instance, the sugar-cane, or the reed-cane. From the use as walking-sticks to which many of these plants have been applied, the name cane has been given generally to “sticks” irrespective of the source from which they are derived.