A Cotton Experience - Part 1

Cotton Department Knowledge

Prepared by Peter Bell

What is Cotton?

Cotton is the most important of the naturally occurring vegetable fibres; it is a member of the Malvaceae family. There are several types and species of cotton and it has been around for a very long time. The oldest archaeological record of cotton textiles dates back to about 3000 B.C. However, more recent research suggests that cotton has been around for considerably much longer than that.

There are very many types, varieties and strains of cotton. We can consider a few of them:

1. Gossypium hirsutum. These are small shrubby plants 60 -150 cm with few vegetative branches, and green or brown stems. It has large cordate three to five lobed hairy leaves. The flowers have large pale yellow petals without a petal spot. The bolls are large and rounded with few gossypol glands, comprising three to five locules. The seeds bear a copius coat of lint hairs and usually a thick coat of fuzz.

  • Gossypium hirsutum race marie-galante. This perennial race includes the largest cottons of all. They are large shrubs or

        small trees up to 6 metres in height with many large, ascending vegetative branches coming from the lower part of the

        main stem. It forms the basis for most of our wild cotton in Barbados.

  • Gossypium hirsutum race latifolium. These have become the dominant cottons in the world from Central America to

        the Cotton Belt of America where they became known as the "Upland" Cotton. The modern Russian crop in Central

        Asia is mostly "Upland" types. Upland types form the bulk of the cotton crop in Central and Northern India, and        



   2. Gossypium herbaceum. These are shrubby plants usually 60 to130 cm tall with few or no vegetative branches, and thick

       rigid stems. They bear alternate flat lobed hairy leaves. The bracts flare widely from the flower and the bolls, being

       round or widely triangular in shape, usually broader than long, with a margin serrated into 6 to 8 definite teeth. The

       bolls are rounded, rarely with prominent shoulders, beaked, and 2 to 3.5 cm long, with a smooth or shallowly dented

       surface, with few pits and few oil glands, opening slightly when ripe and divided into three or four locules.


3. Gossypium arboreum. This species also called Indian cotton are perennial, much branched shrubs, up to 2 metres or more

      in height, or annual sub shrubs with few or no vegetative branches, 50 to 140 cm tall, with hairy, five to seven lobed

      leaves. The bracts are more or less triangular and closely enclose the bud and the flower, being entire structures but with

      several teeth near the apex. The flowers have a long staminal column which bears anthers on short filaments throughout 

      its length. The bolls are usually trilocular, tapering structures, profusely pitted with prominent oil glands in the pits. They

      open widely when ripe and contain up to seventeen seeds per locule. The seed usually have long lint hairs, and short fuzz



  4. Gossypium barbadense. This species embraces a large group of cottons which produce the finest quality lint, i.e. the Sea

      Island Cottons of the West Indies and the Egyptian type cottons of the Nile valley, grown in Egypt and Sudan under

      irrigation. In cultivation, the plant is an annual shrub reaching a height of up to 270 cm, with few to many strong

      ascending vegetative branches. The leaves are fairly deeply divided into three or five lobes and are usually smooth. The

      flowers are large, of a deep yellow colour and have a red or purple petal spot. The bracts are large structures, almost as

      broad as long, divided at the apex into 10 to 15 long acuminate teeth. The bolls are usually large, 3.5 to 6 cm long,

      usually 3-locular, deeply pitted. The seeds have green or brown fuzz at one end of the seed. This cotton produces the

      finest lint known, creamy white in colour, silky and lustrous, with a staple length of 3 cm or more, stronger and finer than

      any other cotton. It is used for the finest textiles and yarns.

A Cotton Experience                                                                                                                                                                       

Peter Bell

09 April 2009