Cotton: a lovely flower

Notwithstanding its useful fiber, domestic cotton has a beautiful flower that goes well in the garden. Its blossoms have the interesting ability to open creamy white, fade to pink, and wither to dusky rose, all of the colors visible at once on the same plant. [Click photos to enlarge.]

This heirloom cotton has burgundy colored leaves and pinkish blooms.

This heirloom cotton has burgundy colored leaves and pinkish blooms.

And the flowers are outstanding! They unfurl and furl again as evening approaches, like little umbrellas.  Their delicate petals overlap in complex patterns.

The folds of this flower, and compound shades of creamy white, make me think of a Georgia O'Keefe painting.

The folds of this flower, and compound shades of creamy white, make me think of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.

As each flower fades and drops, it leaves behind a small round nubbin that will grow to become the cotton boll.  It will burst apart when ripe, seeds buried deep inside. Although I’m growing cotton because I’m a spinner who’s curious about the plant, I’m so entranced by the flowers that the bolls are almost a second thought at this point.

The green-leafed cotton plants have cream flowers; the burgundy plants have distinct pink petals.

The green-leafed cotton plants have cream flowers; the burgundy plants have distinct pink petals.

I started the plants inside in February, for they have a growing season of between 125 and 150 days, and I was unsure which varieties I was growing. The white-flowered variety is definitely white cotton but I’m hoping that the burgundy-leafed plants will give me naturally brown fiber.

Even when shriveling up, the cotton's blossoms remain beautiful, turning deep rose in color.

Even when shriveling up, the cotton’s blossoms remain beautiful, turning deep rose in color.

I have an organic garden and I did not add any fertilizers of any kind. The soil is not particularly good but there’s plenty of compost worked into it. I’m somewhat concerned at the relative paucity of blossoms because each plant only has a single flower every two or three days, in a progression leading outward fromnext to the central stem toward the tips of the side branches. The plant is a heavy nitrogen feeder and possibly could benefit from applications of fertilizer. Next year I will definitely add nitrogen.  This year has all been an experiment to germinate and grow out some stale seeds I was given. Apparently I did not have to worry about the staleness, for the seeds gave me 100% germination without any problem, despite being at least three years old.

A compendium of cotton facts and advice for garden culture can be found at http://www.cottonacres.com/grow-cotton.html. Let me know about your own experiences with this plant, and any suggestions or advice you might have.

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