What Does a Cotton Plant Look Like

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cotton plant

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We use cotton in so many facets of our lives. It is used to make some of the most comfortable and softest woven fabric. Most of us are familiar with how cotton looks. But ever wondered what does a cotton plant look like?

If you are curious about what this super helpful plant looks like, we have you covered. In this article, you will learn much more about cotton. Spoiler alert, some of the facts might surprise you.

what does a cotton plant look like

What Does a Cotton Plant Look Like?

Cotton plants look very particular. Typical cotton plants are shrubs and grow up to 15 feet tall. They look like just normal shrubs or plants with fluffy cotton on them. The cotton itself kind of looks like they have been glued onto the plant.

The plant grows yellowish or white-colored flowers. Then the flowers turn into what we call bolls. The actual cotton grows inside the boll and surrounds the seeds. They are very soft, fluffy, and white.

The part of the plant that bears the seeds is green at the start. As they mature, they turn brown, indicating they are ready to harvest.

Honestly, even if you have never seen a cotton plant, you will not be surprised by how they look the moment you see one. Here is a fun fact, the word cotton originates from the Arabic word ‘quton.’

Types of Cotton Plants

Yes, there are different types of cotton – 4. They are grown in all other parts of the world. Here is what you need to know about each of them.

Gossypium Hirsutum

First up, there is Gossypium Hirsutum, the most common cotton type. These cotton have shorter fibers than others and are commonly used in consumer products worldwide.

95% of the cotton grown in the US is Gossypium Hirsutum. Moreover, about 90% of the world’s cotton is Gossypium Hirsutum. Another name for this kind of cotton is upland cotton.

Products made from upland cotton have a purity and high-quality aspect about them. That is why they are so popular. This type of cotton is also used for nonwoven products like baby care and feminine hygiene products.

Gossypium Arboretum

Gossypium Arboretum is widely used in places like Pakistan and India. It is local to these parts. This type of cotton is not that common around the world, though. Only 2% of the cotton in the world is Gossypium Arboretum.

Moreover, Gossypium Arboretum cotton is used mainly for muslin. Muslin is a very high-quality fabric that is revered for how breathable and durable it is.

These fabric characteristics are directly attributed to the strong fibers of tree cotton (another name for Gossypium Arboretum). Muslin is not only used to make clothes. It is also used in medical products as a filter for cooking.

Gossypium Barbadense

This type of cotton is the 2nd most produced cotton in the world. However, it still makes up only 8% of all the cotton produced. That gives you a sense of how popular upland cotton or Gossypium Hirsutum is.

This cotton, also known as Pima, is used to make very high-quality and premium fabric. It is very long and has some key characteristics like its strength. In addition, it resists fading, pilling, and wrinkling while being pretty soft cotton too.

Gossypium Herbaceum

Lastly, another uncommon cotton type is the Gossypium Herbaceum. It is native to the Arabian peninsula and can also be found in Southern Africa. Another name for this type of cotton is Levant cotton, a pretty regal-sounding name.

Levant cotton is used in all kinds of things. It is mainly used for making fabric. There are some medical benefits of this cotton as well. Many use Levant cotton to treat diarrhea, nausea, fevers, and hemorrhages. Gossypium Herbaceum or Levant cotton is rare, making less than 2% of the world’s cotton.

The Anatomy of Cotton Plants

Cotton plant structure is pretty simple. Yet, they are very easily recognizable. The cotton plant consists of 7 parts:

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Stem
  • Bud
  • Boll

When the cotton boll is ready for harvest, they turn white and fluffy. Apart from the parts we mentioned above, there are the plant’s roots as well.

What Do Cotton Plants Need to Grow?

Even though cotton plants are warm-season crops, they are pretty versatile. Cotton plants can grow in various conditions and different kinds of soil. However, the most important thing a cotton plant needs to grow is time.

Long growing seasons are a must if you want high-quality cotton. The ideal is 120 days beginner from planting till they are harvested. This instinctively tells us what else they need to grow.

That’s why they are considered warm-season crops. Because when the climate is dry, you will have enough time to grow cotton properly. Then there is the soil.

The soil needs to be plenty fertile. Ideally, it should be deep and also have proper drainage. Moreover, cotton plants need plenty of nutrients to grow. The soil needs ample nutrients for the plants, like potassium and phosphorus.

However, if the soil’s pH level is not balanced, it will not help. The optimal pH level for cotton to grow properly is exactly between 6 to 7. Very acidic soil, as well as alkaline soil, negatively affects its growth.

In addition to time, the right climate and soil, sunlight is also very important. Cotton plants cannot grow in the shade. They need lots of direct sunlight. This is why most cotton fields are in very large and open lands.

Which Season Does Cotton Plants Grow In?

Cotton plants grow best in warmer climates. It is a warm-season crop. So, most of the cotton is harvested during the fall season. And they are planted right about when spring arrives. Since they are grown in warm seasons, cotton and cotton plants are not suitable for places where it is cold.

When the weather is warm, the cotton plant seeds are planted, which grow to become tall cotton plants. Then during the summer season, the plant grows flowers that bloom. When this flower falls off, it is ready to be harvested.

How Can You Tell the Cotton is Ready to Be Picked?

When cotton plants bloom, the flowers fall off. They leave behind a ball, which farmers ultimately harvest.

Cotton is the fluffy and white fiber that grows around the seeds. These fibers are attached to the seeds and can be 1 to 2 inches long.

Harvesting is done by machines which makes the farmer’s job much easier. The machines are very sophisticated. They can get the cotton bolls and put them in the bag. Agriculture machines are marvels of engineering and technology. If you have never seen a cotton harvester at work, check it out on YouTube.

After the machines put the bolls in the bag, the seeds are separated from the fiber. Farmers replant the seeds for the next season.

Are There Benefits of Cotton Plants?

Yes, cotton is very beneficial. We use them in many ways, from making clothes and fabric to medicine. You will hear tons of discussions about how cotton benefits diarrhea and nausea. Here are some cool benefits of cotton:

Clothing and Fabric

The most significant benefit of cotton is undoubtedly clothing. Cotton is super popular as a fabric. They are used to make knitted and woven fabrics that are very comfortable.

The same properties that make cotton great for clothes and fabric also make it great for similar use cases. For example, bed sheets, carpets, bath robes, and curtains.

Medicinal Benefits

Surprisingly a lot of people are unaware of the medicinal properties of cotton. Most people know cotton for its use in clothing and fabric. However, there are medical benefits of cotton too.

For example, it can treat diarrhea, nausea, and more. Cotton can also be used as an absorbent to make bandages and more.

Nonwoven Products

Nonwoven use of cotton refers to feminine and baby care products. Since cotton is soft and durable, they are perfect for diapers, shampoos, lotions, and more.

All in all, the usefulness of cotton is pretty up there. Besides the use cases mentioned above, cotton is also used in agriculture. Cotton can be harvested for many uses. But the seeds can be fed to animals as a high-protein food.


Why is cotton so popular?

Cotton is a very versatile and durable material. Cotton fabric is highly sought after. In addition, cotton has other use cases other than fabric.

How fast do cotton plants grow?

Cotton plants take 5 to 6 months to produce fiber. This period is counted from the time it was planted. So, when you are planting cotton, you need to have a bit of patience. Long growing seasons are crucial to ensure high-quality cotton.

Can you eat cotton?

Eating cotton is not safe at all. It can block the digestive system. In the worst cases, it can lead to death. Cotton seeds are not safe to eat for humans either. Animals can eat cotton seeds because they have a special digestive enzyme.

Wrapping Up

Even though most of us probably have not seen a cotton plant in real life, now that you know what a cotton plant looks like, we are pretty sure you will be able to identify one in the wild.

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Jack Daniel

I am Jack Daniel, and I have been gardening for more than 20 years now. I believe that with my years of experience, I can help you with backyard ideas and backyard product reviews. So, with the motto to help anyone facing gardening issues or wanting tips on enhancing the beauty of their backyards, I have created Backyard Muse. So, before anything else, I want to welcome you warmly to my site.


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