Pick a Plant Day – Our Cotton Plant

Those cotton wool balls you have on hand for various uses around the home must have been significantly processed to look the way they do? Not as much as you think…

Our experience:

Our plant was grown from seed planted in spring 2013 within a wicking barrel (will cover wicking beds in another discussion). It is on the south side of a huge box gum whose trunk provides shade only at midday in winter, but the canopy provides shade for several hours around midday in summer. Thus protecting it from extreme heat / sunburn, but providing the required long hours of sunshine. It is the Upland Cotton Bush (Gossypium hirsutum) which is the most widely planted species of cotton (>90%) in the USA; it is native to Central America.

We took a crop off it in April this year, so we have proof that in our climate, it has a rapid turn around time from planting to production.  The following photos describe it well and…. voilà, the “fruit” is four cotton wool balls!

Cotton Bush in Wicking Olive Barrel

The bush as a whole in situ (Aug, 2014).

New bud and Leaf

A new bud with the leaf (Aug, 2014).

The new bud

The new bud (Aug, 2014).

Opening Flower

The opening flower (courtesy of Victor M. Vicente Selvas) – Mid Summer.

Holding Stem Small

The cotton “fruit” in perspective…..see the perfect little cotton wool ball shapes which sit on the calyx (the calyx – I learnt today – is the term for the dried out shell which previously protected the unopened bud). It’s hard to photo graph front-on and still see the balls with the white on white, but you’ll can see it slightly in the below shot.

Cotton parts copy small

The cotton boll parts – The term boll refers to the “fruit” which includes the cotton fibre holding the seeds as well as the calyx it is sitting on.

Did you know?

Does cotton gin sound good? Unfortunately the “cotton gin” is the factory which de-lints and cleans the cotton boll before it is sent to the mill for spinning and weaving into fabric!

Gossypium is the cotton plant’s genus, within the tribe Gossypieae, in the Malvaceae family.  This family also includes plants such as Okra, Hibiscus, Hollyhock and Boabab.  Botany Everyday (http://www.botanyeveryday.com) suggests cotton is the “outlier in this family as it is considered to be one of the only inedible members. Cotton seed meal is also a major fertilizer which can itself cause pollution.”

It is stated that the cotton seed oil “can” be used in a similar manner to sunflower seed oil within cooking. Within Wikipedia there is the following interesting information regarding the removal of the gossypol from the seed, along with a description of the two main uses of the oil.

Gossypol is a toxic, yellow, polyphenolic compound produced by cotton and other members of the order Malvaceae, such as. This naturally occurring coloured compound is found in tiny glands in the seed, leaf, stem, tap-root bark, and root of the cotton plant. The adaptive function of the compound facilitates natural insect resistance. The three key steps of refining, bleaching and deodorization in producing finished oil act to eliminate the gossypol level.

Use in food – Cottonseed oil has traditionally been used in foods such as potato chips and is a primary ingredient in Crisco, the shortening product.  But since it is significantly less expensive than olive oil or canola oil, cottonseed has started to be used in a much wider range of processed foods, including cereals, breads and snack foods.

Use as insecticideIn an agricultural context, the toxicity of cottonseed oil may be considered beneficial: Oils, including vegetable oils, have been used for centuries to control insect and mite pests.  This oil has been generally considered the most insecticidal of vegetable oils.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonseed_oil)

I very much hope they are talking about two very different cotton seed oils….

The Gossypol derived from the cotton plant’s seeds is reported to act as male contraceptive…. having said that, as mentioned before, the seed is considered toxic to mammals (including us!), birds, insect larvae and other creatures.  It is attributed with causing weight loss, diarrhoea, cardiac irregularity, haemorrhage, edema and other ill effects (Medicinal Herbalism; Hoffmann, D; 2003).  So perhaps contraceptive is an understatement!

I suspect a whole future blog can be done on the pros and cons of consumption of this oil, which I look forward to getting to the bottom of one day, but for now, I want to avoid getting too deep or argumentative.

Food for thought as we consider the amount of cotton products demanded by the world with all its benefits (e.g. cotton clothing versus synthetic fabrics), as the seed represents a large volume waste product for the cotton industry – Due to the toxicity, disposal is complicated, but if not utilised for cooking oil what else is possible?  What happens with Gossypol in combustion if used as a biofuel? I wonder what happens to the gossypol once it has been applied to the crop for insecticidal purposes – does it get absorbed into the crop? Rabbit warrens for the future…..

(As this is an early blog effort, please forgive (or let me know about) any teething issues with photos, links… etc.  All part of the learning!)


Thanks to Michele, we now have a better shot of the cotton “fruit” from the front:



One thought on “Pick a Plant Day – Our Cotton Plant

  1. Pingback: Planting in Spring…. Surviving through Summer – Wicking Bed Summer Follow Up (Did we survive?) | The Soil Hugger's Journey

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