Description and technical features
Cotton is a natural fibre of vegetable origin, like linen, jute or hemp. Mostly composed of cellulose (a carbohydrate plant substance) and formed by twisted, ribbon-like shaped fibres,cotton is the fruit of a shrubby plant commonly referred to as the "cotton plant". The cotton plant, a variety of plants of the genus
, belongs to the
family, whichcomprises approximately 1,500 species, also including the baobab tree, the bombax or themallow. The plant, growing up to 10 metres high in the wild, has been domesticated to range between 1 to 2 metres under commercial cultivation in order to facilitate picking. Either herbaceous or ligneous, it thrives indry tropical and subtropical areas. Whereas by nature the plant is a perennial tree (lasting about 10 years), under extensive cultivation it is mostly grown asan annual shrub. The cotton flower has five large petals (showy, white, white-creamy, or evenrose in colour), which soon fall off, leaving capsules, or "cotton bolls", having a thick and rigidexternal layer. The capsule bursts open upon maturity, revealing the seeds and masses of white/creamy and downy fibres. Cotton fibres of the
species range fromabout 2 to 3 centimetres in length, whereas
cotton produces long-staplefibres up to 5 centimetres length. Their surface is finely indented, and they become kinkedtogether and interlocked. The cotton plant is almost exclusively cultivated for its oleaginousseeds and for the seminal fibres growing from them (i.e. cotton, strictly speaking). In ordinaryusage, the term "cotton" also makes reference to fibres that are made into fabric wires suitablefor use in the textile industry.Although the cotton plant is native to tropical countries, cotton production is not limited to thetropics. Indeed, the emergence of new varieties, as well as advances in cultivation techniques ledto theexpansion of its culture within an area straddling from approximately 47 degrees Northlatitude (Ukraine) to 32 degrees South (Australia).Although cotton is widely planted in bothhemispheres, it remains a sun-loving plant highly vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Cotton iscrucially important to several developing countries.Out of the 65 cotton-producing countries in2007/08, 52 were developing countries, 21 of which were indexed by the United Nations amongthe least developed countries (LDCs).
Cotton-growing countries by geographical area, 2005
North and Central America