The Cotton Plant

  • Cotton is a natural fibre that grows on a plant.

  • The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. The greatest diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. (source: The Biology of Gossypium hirsutum L. and Gossypium barbadense L. (cotton), February 2008)

  • Australian flora contains 17 native Gossypium species that are all members of a distinct group found exclusively in Australia.  They are distant relatives of cultivated cottons. (source:  Fryxell 1979b; Fryxell 1992; Seelanan et al. 1999; Brubaker et al. 1999a; Brubaker et al. 1999b).

  • There are up to 52 species of cotton in the Gossypium genus.  (source: The Biology of Gossypium hirsutum L. and Gossypium barbadense L. (cotton), February 2008).  The most commercially grown cotton variety is Gossypium hirsutum, first developed by the Mayan civilisation in Mexico.

  • The cotton plant is a leafy, green shrub related to the Hibiscus.

  • The cotton plant briefly produces cream and pink flowers that once pollinated are replaced by fruit, better known as cotton bolls.

  • Cotton is grown commercially as an annual shrub and reaches about 1.2 metres in height.  Its leaves are broad and heart shaped with coarse veins and 3-5 lobes. The plant has many branches, with one main central stem.

  • The cotton plant’s taproot reaches a depth of 1.5 metres.

  • The plant also produces seeds that are contained in small capsules surrounded by a downy fibre hidden in the cotton bolls.

  • Each cotton boll usually contains 27-45 seeds.  Attached to each seed is between 10,000 – 20,000 tiny fibres about 28mm in length.

  • Cotton fibre is made from cellulose, has a thin coating of wax and is thin and hollow like a straw.

  • Cotton plants prefer hot summers with low humidity and long hours of sunshine.

  • Australia’s cotton growing season lasts approximately six months, starting in September/October/November (planting) and ending in March/April/May (picking) – depending on the region.

  • About 30 species of insects attack cotton plants, and if not controlled can cause serious damage.  The main pests in Australia are the Helicoverpa caterpillar, aphids, thrips, mirids and white fly.

  • Cotton can be affected by a range of diseases that have the potential to devastate the industry.  The six most serious ones are bacterial blight, Texas root rot, cotton leaf curl disease, blue disease and exotic strains of Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt.  (source: Innovative Disease Management, Karen A. Kirkby1, 2012)

  • A number of environmental factors can affect the growth of cotton, particularly in the early stages, including heat shock, cold shock, sand blasting, hail damage and water logging.

  • All parts of the cotton plant are used.  Cotton fibre is processed into yarn and fabric, the seeds can be crushed for oil or animal feed, the remaining plant is mulched and even the linters are used to make products like cotton balls.

  • More than 75 countries grow cotton. (source: ICAC, 2012)

  • Cotton is grown between 45 degrees north and 35 degrees south of the equator. (source: ICAC, 2012)

  • In 2009 cotton accounted for 31.7% of worldwide fibre production. (source: ICAC 2011)