Land of Cotton

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 field in rural Virginia.

Cotton field in rural Virginia.

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.

Cotton "square."

Cotton “square.”

Since I’ve never examined young cotton closely, I was interested to see the newly-formed flower buds that will open within three weeks.

Flower bud of Gossypium hirsutum.

Flower bud of Gossypium hirsutum.

As opportunity arises through the summer, I’ll show you how the cotton progresses.

13 thoughts on “Land of Cotton

  1. Nancy Shannon

    Very interesting. This country needs to go back to the land. Our corn, beans and okra are doing great. I will send some pics of my flowers. N

    Sent from my iPad


  2. pbmgarden

    Interesting post Marian. When I grew up in southeastern NC cotton fields were ubiquitous, but I never had a chance to examine the plants–just took them for granted. Then they disappeared for a while completely.

  3. Sharon Culbertson

    My mom your Aunt Joyce used to pick cotton as a young gal own by her father your Grandfather, and she said her hands would bleed I think she wrapped type around them to help she said it was very hard work.

  4. Trish Johnston

    Fascinating! I think the cotton bud looks like a hibiscus flower bud! I’ll watch for further reports!

  5. Ruth Ann Bigger

    As a native of Norfolk and an 18 year resident of Franklin prior to moving to Sumter, you have to tell me which town in southeastern VA you hail from!

    Ruth Ann

  6. Julie

    I have only seen Cotton growing once before and we whizzed by the fields on a bus, so looking forward to seeing more, its quite an extraordinary plant.

  7. Patterson Webster

    Like the other readers who have commented, I find this post very interesting. Cotton is something we all know about in its final stage, when we wear it, but to learn about it as a plant is an education. Thank you, Marian.

  8. gardeninacity

    I actually sprayed and chopped weeds in cotton fields when I lived on a farm in Israel. I was surprised by how beautiful the flowers were – white and pink, if I remember correctly – and how tall the plants got.


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