The cotton plant belongs to the genus Gossypium of the family Malvaceae (mallow family). It is generally a shrubby plant having broad three-lobed leaves and seeds in capsules, or bolls; each seed is surrounded with downy fiber, white or creamy in color and easily spun. The fibers flatten and twist naturally as they dry.
Cotton is of tropical origin but is most successfully cultivated in temperate climates with well-distributed rainfall. All western U.S. cotton and as much as one-third of Southern cotton, however, is grown under irrigation. In the United States nearly all commercial production comes from varieties of upland cotton ( G. hirsutum ), but small quantities are obtained from sea-island and American-Egyptian cotton (both belonging to the species G. barbadense ). G. arboreum and G. herbaceum are the chief cultivated species in Asia.
Cotton is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Malvales, family Malvaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.