Cotton is among the most popular contributors in the fashion industry. The clothes of this fabric are prominently worn during the summer seasons.
It is because they’re very soft, lightweight, breathable, and easy to handle. But have you ever considered where it grows?
Does cotton grow on trees? Cotton naturally grows like a plant’s fruit, but if not harvested, it can potentially grow into a tree. Cotton was originally a perennial plant, but humans harvested it annually to fit their needs.
Did you know that cotton is related to the hibiscus family and is harvested during the autumn season? It is why the Hibiscus tiliaceus plant is also referred to as “Cottonwood tree.”
If cotton does not grow as a tree, how does it grow? Are you curious about the origins of this fiber? We have all the answers you seek. Stay with us till the end to learn more.
What is Cotton?
Cotton is a fiber that grows as the fruit of the genus Gossypium (the cotton plant). It grows around the seeds of the plant, and it is almost pure cellulose.
The word cotton is derived from “qutun” or “quton” an Arabic word. In the earliest times, cotton was found in the Indus Valley Civilization in the fifth millennium BC.
Types of Cotton
All the cotton that is cultivated on Earth can be divided into four main categories. In this section, we’ll take a look at each category and explore their differences:
Upland Cotton (Gossypium hirusutum)
Also referred to as “Mexican Cotton,” the Upland cotton is the most widely used cotton plant species globally, covering over 90% of the world’s total cotton production.
Upland cotton is native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and southern Florida.
It has very short and multiple-staple fibers and is primarily used in the clothing industry.
Pima Cotton (Gossypium barbadense)
The Pima cotton fibers, which are considered the best cotton in the world, are very soft and very long.
This cotton is native to South America and the southwestern United States.
Pima cotton fabrics are in great demand as they are resistant to fading, tearing, and wrinkling. Pima cotton has another variety, Egyptian cotton.
Also known as “Sea Island Cotton” and “Extra Long-staple (ELS) Cotton,” Egyptian cotton is a tropical cotton plant that is extremely sensitive to frost.
Because both Egyptian and Pima belong to the same scientific class, Gossypium barbadense, they are very similar.
Egyptian cotton is grown in the Nile River Valley in Egypt and has the same resistant qualities as the Pima cotton.
It has long, silky fibers and is commonly used in the manufacturing of beddings and towels.
Tree Cotton (Gossypium arboretum)
Endemic to the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, the Tree cotton is a cotton variety that grows on shrubs 1-2 meters high. Its leaves resemble that of a maple tree.
Tree cotton produces less than 2% of the entire world’s cotton production.
Interestingly enough, the leaves of these trees are known to contain many health benefits and can also cure wounds.
Levant Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum)
Grown in the wilds as a perennial plant, the Levant cotton is endemic to the semi-arid and arid regions of Arabia and Africa.
Just like Tree cotton, this variety also makes up less than 2% of the world’s cotton. The cotton of these plants is also used in the textile industry.
What is Organic Cotton?
As you can gather by its name, Organic cotton is the type of cotton grown organically, without using any synthetic fertilizer or pesticide.
It is not really a unique cotton variety but a cotton plantation grown under specific guidelines.
All cotton plantations need approval and certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be considered organic.
Because these fibers are grown organically, they’re healthier for our health as well as our environment. However, they can be more expensive than other cotton varieties.
Does Cotton Grow on Trees?
The Cotton plant is a shrub. It is a perennial plant that we artificially harvest as an annual plant. Perennial plants can live for more than two years.
The cotton plant comes from the Mallow family, the family of hibiscus.
A cotton plant requires a lot of heat and a frost-free environment to grow. Therefore, the farmers plant the cotton seeds during the spring season, ideal for their growth.
As a heat-loving crop, cotton is planted between March to June. If it is not harvested by November, the frost can degrade its quality.
The entire process of “boll” development takes only a month. “Boll” is the seed capsule of the cotton itself, which is the raw material of many products. We only require the “boll.”
All plants require energy to grow, and if cotton is treated as a perennial plant, the energy necessary for the fruit to grow might not be enough.
The energy will be stressed on the growth of leaves and branches instead of fruit and, we need the energy to grow fruit.
Another reason that cotton plants are not left to grow into a tree is to protect them from pests. These plants are commercial crops and are rotated each year.
It helps to avoid any kind of diseases that can come along with harvesting cotton after two years.
Since the “boll” grows within a month, the necessity to grow a cotton plant into a tree seems pointless from a manufacturer’s or farmer’s perspective.
Factors responsible for the growth of cotton
Now that we’ve explored how cotton is produced, you must also learn about the factors responsible for its growth:
Cotton needs a warm climate. Summer temperatures range from 21 °C to 27 °C, in addition to abundant sunshine while the plant is growing.
For the plant to mature, it also needs a long growing period of at least 210 days without frost.
Moderate rainfall is suitable for cotton cultivation. The appropriate rainfall needed for the cultivation ranges between 50 cm and 80 cm.
Cotton crops can also be cultivated in areas with little rainfall through irrigation.
These plants need sufficient rainfall during the initial stages of growth, but sunny, dry weather after flowering is required.
Irrigated cotton plants should be grown in medium to deep black soil with a pH between 6 and 8.
Cotton can grow in various soils, but the black cotton soils of the Deccan Plateau, which are capable of retaining moisture, are best suited for their growth.
Saline soils are not suitable for growing cotton. The depth of soil should be 20 to 25 cm and not less than that.
How is Cotton Produced?
With the arrival of spring, areas are cleared for cotton planting.
Mechanical tillers remove weeds that can compete with cotton for soil nutrients, sunlight, and water and attract pests that damage cotton. The ground is plowed below and subdivided into rows.
Following are the major steps involved in the production of cotton:
Step 1: Growers open a small groove in each row, lay the seeds, cover them, and put more soil on the top.
Seeds are placed 0.75 to 1.25 inches (1.9 to 3.2 cm) deep, depending on the climate. They should be placed shallower in cool, dusty areas of the Cotton Belt and deeper in warmer areas.
Step 2: With good soil moisture and warm temperatures, the seedlings appear into flower 5-7 days after planting, with full bloom in around 11 days.
Sometimes, the disease appears, which delays the emergence of seedlings. In addition, the crust of the soil can prevent the growth of seedlings.
Step 3: About six weeks after the seedlings appear, “squares” or flower buds start forming.
The buds mature in three weeks, then bloom into creamy yellow flowers that turn pink, red, and drop just three days after flowering.
After the flower falls off, a small ovary remains on the cotton plant. This ovary matures and develops into a green fruit called a cotton ball.
Step 4: The cotton fruit ripens in a period of 55 to 80 days. During this time, the boll grows into the shape of a football, and the moist fibers push the newly formed seeds outward.
Step 5: Ten weeks after the appearance of the flowers, the fibers separate the cotton, and the cream-colored cotton comes out.
Each capsule contains three to five “cells,” each of which has about seven seeds embedded in the fiber.
Step 6: Harvesting is done variously in different areas. In India, the cotton bolls are handpicked, while it is done mechanically with 50 hand pickers in the US.
Properties of Cotton
After learning everything about the Cotton plants, you might be curious about the properties of cotton as a fiber.
Take a look at these important characteristics:
Cotton is cellulose and is said to behave in “hydrophilic” properties. Hydrophilic means it attracts water, which is one of the reasons why cotton is absorbent.
Also, the structure of the cotton is made up of complex series that form a chain and create cellulose. Cellulose is a substance that makes cotton absorbent.
Cotton absorbs sweat during the summers, keeps the body cool, and reduces any heat rash.
Cotton is cellulose, and by nature, it is a soft fiber. This soft fiber is further spun into yarn or thread to make a soft and breathable textile.
Cotton is most suitable to wear during the summer seasons as it prevents rashes on the body because of its softness.
Cotton fabric has a very strong cellular structure. It makes cotton clothes resistant to wear and tear. Therefore, cotton is long-lasting and strong.
Insulator of heat
Cotton is indeed an excellent insulator of heat. However, its insulation properties depend on its condition.
When dry, it works effectively as an insulator. However, when it is wet, it cannot insulate that effectively and, thus, stands the risk of hypothermia.
Uses of Cotton
Cotton is used all around us, in some form or the other. Following are the most popular uses of cotton:
1. Raw material and textile industry
The fiber is used to make cotton yarns. These yarns or threads are further used to make different types of clothing. For example, t-shirt, pants, sportswear, yoga wears, etc.
2. Medical uses
It is used as cotton rolls for hospital services being absorbent in nature. It is used to make bandages, cotton pads, earbuds, and wipes to clean a wound.
3. Household uses
Cotton is used to make bed sheets, pillow covers, curtains, rugs, pillows, etc.
4. Other miscellaneous uses
It is also used in making fishing nets, bookbinding, coffee filters, tents, and much more.
In this article, we learned that cotton is a widely-used crop. It serves different purposes and is very flexible and easy to use.
Although cotton is perennial, it isn’t grown like a tree and is instead grown annually because of its impracticality for the cotton farmers.
Additionally, growing the plant too much exposes them to the risk of getting infected by diseases, and we wouldn’t want that to happen.