Using Cotton In The Garden and Butterfly Gardens
One of my earliest memories is visiting my maternal grandfather, Vernon Navarre, who lived in Arizona. At the time he was the overseer on a large commercial cotton growing operation, along with his other financial endeavors. Seeing and touching cotton was only second to the memory of sharing the fact that I was going to be a big sister again that year. So, bringing back cotton bolls that I picked and offering them at show n’tell in my kindergarten class was a big deal. Cotton is still a big deal to me today and among my favorite plants to use in the garden.
Cotton literally is a plant that surrounds us in our everyday life and while it is a huge commercial plant grown for the fiber to make clothing and other everyday articles, it is also a wonderful ornamental plant addition for any serious garden design. Cotton flowers are known butterfly attractors and for that reason alone they should be promoted as plants to include in any butterfly garden. They are also beneficial to bees, which as most of us know are in serious need of all the beneficial plants they can get.
Another reason for planting cotton in the garden is that they make a very useful tool for teaching, not only children and grandchild, but also adults as to where some of their clothing comes from. Cotton is a great conversational piece with adults who also may not be aware of what cotton looks like before it is a product. Additionally, it makes a wonderful dried flower arrangement selection for home decor.
A Little Cotton Plant History
The true old fashioned plant name of cotton is gossypium (gos-sip-i-um). It belongs to the Malavacene plant family. Some members of this plant are woody herbs, but others are tree like. While they are grown in the United States as annual plants, this isn’t by Mother Nature’s choice, just a more commercially feasible farming practice. So for the home gardener growing your cotton plant need not be an annual planting, but can be a perennial planting.
Cotton has been known to mankind for longer than most of us can imagine, proven to be used by humans at the very least over sen thousand years ago. It isn’t thought to be native to the United States, but was growing nearby in the Bahamas, leading many scientists to think that it actually did exist naturally in some of the more tropical parts of the U.S. Since it is also native to Mexico, we also should discount the fact that it was likely known to native peoples long before domestication of this plant. Historically, it was found more often in very dry climates where fabrics don’t decay as quickly.
Where Does Cotton Grow Best
Cotton is a plant of tropical origin. It needs a long growing season and a whole lot of hot weather to be a successful plant. It will still flower in more northern areas, but is best grown in the south from east to west. Don’t forget that cotton can be grown indoors and makes a wonderful house plant and great conversational piece for gardeners.
The flowers of the cotton plant are usually solitary in the leaf axils, large, showy, most always white, yellow, or a lovely pinkish-purple. One of the surprises with cotton is that the flowers will actually change colors soon after opening. Below the flowers is a collection of three to seven, often fringed or delicately cut bracts. The Calyx is five-lobed and the petals number up to five. The cotton stamens are numerous, joined together to form a tube around the style.
The fruit capsule (cotton boll) will contain many seeds, to which is attached is the fiber that gives us the more familiar cotton being used for the making of cloth and other products. don’t forget that cotton has many uses other than for the making of fabrics. Cottonseed, the end product of the cotton plant, is found in many of our food sources as cottonseed oil (such as salad oils and in many snack foods). Cotton seed oil is also used in cosmetics, soap, candles, detergents, and paint. More surprising uses for the cotton plant are: Fertilizer, fuel, car tire cords, pressed paper, and everyday cardboard. So it is no stretch to say that cotton surrounds us in many forms.
Popular Cotton Plant Varieties
Arboreum Tree Cotton (aka Indian Tree Cotton) - an eight to ten foot cotton tree with glossy purple branches and leathery leaves
Barbadense (aka Sea Island Cotton) - an Egyptican cotton, a shrubby plant that is about five to eight feet high, with yellow flowers that are purple-tinged
Herbaceum (aka Levant Cotton)- This cotton variety is an annual with yellow flowers around a center of purple. It is more popular in Asia and usually not commercially grown.
Hersutum (aka Upland Cotton)- It is an important commercial variety, with yellow-white flowers that turn purple pink.
Mexicanum (aka Mexican cotton)- Not commercially important in the United States, with yellow-white flowers that are tinged with pink
Punctatum (aka Jamacian cotton)- Non-commercial cotton with yellow and brown flowers.
If You’d Like To Know More About Growing Cotton In Your Home Garden!