Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum)

Cotton is a soft, fluffy fiber, which is almost 100% cellulose, that grows in a boll and is considered a shrub. Gossypium is the cotton genus. It is one of the many shrubs in the Malvaceae family, the mallow family, which includes various different forms of cotton and woody shrubs. Other well-known members of the Malvaceae family include okra (a flowering plant known or its edible green seed pods used in many dishes all over the world) and the cacao tree, which is well known for producing seeds that are used for making cocoa powder and chocolate. Cotton is native to the tropical and subtropical region the Old and New World. Gossypium comprises around 50 species, making it the largest in species number in the Gossypioieae. It is the primary natural fiber used by humans; it is also a major oilseed crop and main source of protein in animal feed. Cotton greatly effects the world economy and is extremely important for agriculture, industry, and trade in various parts of the world. It is used to make a number of textile products, and is found in many of our clothes that we wear today.

Kingdom: PlantaeSubkingdom: Tracheobionta Cotton seeds.
Cotton seeds
Division: Magnoliophyta Class: MagnoliopsidaSubclass: Dilleniidae
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Gossypium L.
Species: Gossypium hirsutum L.

Origins and Distribution
The origin of the genus Gossypium is dated back to around 5-10 million years ago.Cotton is one of the earliest domesticated plants in the world, being domesticated in the Old World nearly 7,000 years ago. The most widespread species of the old world are the G. arboreum and G. herbaceum. G. arboreum was first cultivated in the Indus Valley of India and Pakistan. G. herbaceum originated in Arabia and Syria.

New World cotton primarily consists of G. hirsutum and G. barbadense. G. hirsutum was first cultivated in Mexico somewhere between 3400 and 2300 BC. G. barbadense was first cultivated in Peru and dates back to 4200 BC.

The top cotton producers in today's society are (in order): China, India, the USA (with Texas and California as the states producing the most cotton in the US), Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Australia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Greece. However, the leading exporters of cotton in order are the US, India, Brazil, Australia and Uzbekistan. The leading importers of cotton in order are Korea, Taiwan, Russia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Map of where Cotton is grown around the world

Map of where Cotton is grown in the U.S.
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The Human Uses of Cotton

Cotton has continued to be one of the most important plants for making textile products. Though cotton was first cultivated in the Old World approximately 7,000 years ago, it began to be a well-known staple for making clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although cotton is the best-selling fiber in America, and surely one of the best-selling fibers in the world today, cotton was not always number one. It had to compete with other fabrics such as rayon, acetate, nylon, and polyester to name a few. In response to cotton's decline, and the need to increase it's popularity, the Cotton Research and Promotion Program (CRPP) was put in place in the mid-1960s. Because of this program, cotton is now number one in America and one of the top selling fibers in the world.

Cotton is used to make terrycloth for towels and robes, denim for jeans, cambric for blue work shirts, cotton twill, corduroy, and seersucker. Bed sheets, socks, underwear, and t-shirts are usually all made from cotton. Shiny cotton is another version of cotton that is processed in such a way that resembles silk, and is used for shirts and suits.Surprisingly, the famous and sought after Egyptian cotton is more common than you think, and only a small percent is of the upmost superior quality. Cotton has been produced via the cotton gin, cotton mill, cotton picker, cotton-spinning machinery, the spinning jenny, mule and wheel, water frame, and Mercerised cotton. In addition to textiles, cotton is also used for cottonseed oil/meal, coffee filters, tents, fishing nets, book bindings, and cotton paper. Cottonseed oil can be consumed by humans; however, cottonseed meal is generally fed to livestock that we then eat.

Clothing made of Cotton
Cotton flower

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Cotton Versus Marijuana

Did you know that marijuana (and the consumption and sale of cannabis) legal in the United States up until 1937? Surprisingly, cotton is one of the main reasons why marijuana is illegal today. Many say that marijuana is mainly only illegal to keep hemp illegal since hemp would put cotton out of business. Cotton growers in the 1930s lobbied against hemp farmers because they them as pure competition, and were frightened of going out of business. Marijuana is not chemically addictive and has not caused any deaths, and instead has shown immense health benefits for those who suffer from various serious and debilitating diseases. This begs the question, why is it that marijuana is illegal? Today, many people still believe that one main contributing factor to the prohibition of marijuana is due to cotton farmers not wanting to go out of business if hemp was legal. There may be other factors involved as well, but it is strange to think that our government bans a plant that is perfectly natural, safe, and would most likely produce mass amounts of revenue to better our economy.

Marijuana Plant

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The inside of a Cotton fruit.

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