Over the holiday weekend I traveled to southeastern Virginia to visit family and was struck by the number of cotton fields in the area I once called home, including the one below that belongs to my step-father and mother and is rented to a large-scale farmer who now rotates several crops. When I grew up here in the 1970s, the primary crop cultivated in this region was peanuts.
Cotton is tropical in origin but is most successfully cultivated in temperate climates with adequate rainfall. The plant belongs to the genus Gossypium of the family Malvaceae (mallow); the same family as hollyhock, okra, and hibiscus. Nearly all commercial cotton grown in the U.S. is G. hirsutum, which is used to produce both fiber and oil.
Grown from seeds that germinate in 5 to 10 days, the plant puts tremendous energy into establishing a tap root that grows to 10-inches deep in just a couple weeks. The flower bud that first appears on the plant is called a “square,” though it is enclosed by three bracts. The photo below shows a pair of squares on the shrub-like plant which will eventually produce 12 to 16 fruiting branches.
Since I’ve never examined young cotton closely, I was interested to see the newly-formed flower buds that will open within three weeks.
As opportunity arises through the summer, I’ll show you how the cotton progresses.