Monday, 2 July 2012

Grow your own Cotton

Cotton flower

We all wear cotton clothes and we know about cotton fields, and there are even old songs that talk about picking a "bale of cotton," but what a lot of people don't realise is that the plant the fibre comes from has an attractive flower and leaves and makes a very unusual ornamental plant to grow as a houseplant or in your garden.
Cotton species
Species of the Cotton Plant grown and harvested commercially are Gossypium hirsutum (90% of world production), G. barbadense (8%), G. arboreum and G. herbaceum and they are all in the Mallow family or Malvaceae.
Cotton described
The Cotton Plant is a shrub or bush and can grow to as high as 3 metres, depending on the species and the growing conditions. Cotton species are subtropical or tropical plants but can be grown indoors as houseplants in colder climates.
Cotton comes originally from Africa, India and the Americas. The plants need a fairly good soil and plenty of water to grow well. Cotton plants start off with two fairly large seed-leaves and then start to develop the proper leaves, which are palmate in form. The plants can grow fast and will eventually produce pretty flowers in shades of yellow or pale orange and these are followed by the bolls, which contain hard seeds covered in the fluffy cotton fibre.

Parts of the Cotton plant

Cotton plants can be attacked by several insect pests including thrips, whiteflies and caterpillars. There is a species of moth caterpillar known as the "bollworm." Surely the best way of dealing with pests is the old-fashioned way or by using biological controls?

Genetically modified cotton has been produced by the bioengineering global company Monsanto. This form is known as BT Cotton and contains a pesticide from a gene in its artificially manipulated DNA.
It is successful in combating some insect pests but not all and in India has caused terrible problems for farmers there who bought the seeds from Monsanto. Faced with failed crops, a need for irrigation, herbicides, and buying new seed from the company, many farmers have found themselves unable to afford the costs and have actually committed suicide. This is yet another tragedy brought to the world by this powerful global company that has also given us Agent Orange, a dangerous defoliant used in the Vietnam War, and Aspartame, the toxic artificial sweetener that is found in a disturbing amount of food and drink products today.
Organic Cotton
There has also been a move towards growing organically-produced cotton and plenty of such products on sale. Many people prefer to have cotton clothes as a natural product as opposed to artificial fibres but they would also prefer a natural product free of pesticides and herbicide residues.

Cotton growing in a  flower border

I first came upon a Cotton Plant growing as a bush in a shrub border here on Tenerife. I picked a boll off the plant and found that the seeds it contained germinated very easily. I have also seen plants of cotton in a row on a shrub border in the village I live in where I assume they have been planted by a member of the local community.

Cotton bolls

If you have enough land and live in a warm enough part of the world you could grow your own field of cotton but I grow my Cotton Plants on the balcony. Cotton makes a very unusual and attractive plant to grow and I can certainly recommend it.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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