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Cotton field

Cotton field

Eurosiden II
Order : Mallow-like (Malvales)
Family : Mallow family (Malvaceae)
Subfamily : Malvoideae
Genre : cotton
Scientific name
Subgenus Gossypium Section Gossypium : Gossypium arboreum

The cotton plant ( Gossypium ) or cotton is a plant genus within the family of mallow (Malvaceae). There are around (20 to) 51 species in the tropics and subtropics.

Cotton is a very old crop . It is unusual that at least four colonies may have domesticated this genus independently of one another . This happened twice in the New World with the species Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense and in the Old World once in Asia ( Gossypium arboreum ) and Africa ( Gossypium herbaceum ). From the seed fibers is cotton fiber , a natural fiber obtained. The cotton fibers are also called cotton.


The 14th century woodcut by Jehan de Mandeville shows the misunderstanding of the sheep- bearing tree.

The name "cotton" is derived from the tufts of long fibers in the fruits of the cotton plant, which enable the plant seeds to spread over greater distances. However, despite the name, the cotton plant is not a tree , but a shrub up to 6 meters high. Many plant seeds have such seed hairs (including seed wool), but only a few, such as that of the cotton plant, are used for textile production. Like animal wool, these plant fibers serve as the basis for the production of yarns , fabrics and knitted goods .

The defining word “tree” was possibly chosen following the Herodotus Histories book 3, 106, according to which wool, which surpasses sheep's wool in beauty and quality and from which the Indians make their clothes, grows on trees in India . In Middle High German , the word boumwolle is already used for the 12th century .

The word cotton (Middle English coton , French coton , Spanish algodón , Italian cotone ), which is not only used in English but also internationally , is derived from the Middle French coton from the Spanish-Arabic dialect word quṭún ( high Arabic قطن, DMG quṭn ), which means "cotton". In German, this root is present in calico .


Illustration from Koehler's medicinal plants from Gossypium barbadense : A flowering twig, 1 flower without petals, 2 stamens, 3 pollen, 4 and 5 ovaries in longitudinal and cross-section, 6 fruit, 7 seed with seed hairs, 8 the same without seed hairs, 9 and 10 the same in longitudinal and transverse section, 11 embryo

Gossypium species are dimorphic : while the main shoot forms a continuous ( monopodial ) vegetative axis, flowers are formed on the side shoots. The side shoots are also sympodial , because after each flowering the old axis stops growing. The new branch axis is taken over by a bud that sprouts next to the flower.

Vegetative characteristics

Gossypium species grow as annual to perennial, herbaceous plants , sometimes as shrubs . All parts of the plant above ground are dotted with dark oil glands.

The alternate leaves are divided into a petiole and a leaf blade. The leaf blades are usually palmate, three to nine lobes, rarely without lobes. There are stipules present.

Generative characteristics

The flowers formed in the upper area of ​​the plants are single. The flower stalks usually have glands just below the calyx . The mostly three, rarely up to seven, sepals are leaf-like, glandular, free or fused at their base, with entire margins or serrated to deeply slit.

The hermaphroditic flowers are radial symmetry , five-fold with a double flower envelope (perianth). The five sepals are more or less high fused cup-shaped. The five free, relatively large petals are rounded at the top. The petals have a white or yellow base color and are sometimes purple in the center of the flower. In the subfamily Malvoideae, the many stamens have grown together to form a tube surrounding the pistil , the so-called Columna . Three to five carpels have become a top permanent, three to fünfkammerigen ovary grown with two ovules in each chamber. The short, rod-shaped stylus ends in a club-shaped, three- to five-groove scar.

The spherical or ellipsoidal capsule fruit opens with three to five valves when ripe. The spherical seeds have intensely white, long woolly trichomes (seed hairs), which can be mixed with short trichomes.


The poisonous seeds contain up to 1.5% gossypol .

Section Houzingenia : Gossypium thurberi
Subgenus Karpas : Gossypium barbadense
Subgenus Karpas : Gossypium hirsutum
Subgenus Karpas : leaves and flowers of Gossypium tomentosum
Subgenus Sturtia Section Hibiscoidea : Gossypium australe
Subgenus Sturtia Section Hibiscoidea : Gossypium bickii
Subgenus Sturtia Section Sturtia : Gossypium sturtianum


The genus name Gossypium was first published in 1753 by Carl von Linné in Species Plantarum , 2, p. 693. Lectotype species is Gossypium arboreum L. Synonyms for Gossypium L. are: Erioxylum Rose & Standl. , Ingenhouzia DC. , Notoxylinon Lewton , Selera Ulbr. , Sturtia R.Br. , Thurberia A. Gray , Ultragossypium Roberty . The genus Gossypium belongs to the tribe Gossypieae in the subfamily of Malvoideae in the family of Malvaceae .

The genus Gossypium is divided into four sub-genera, seven sections and subsections, here with all 51 species:

Subgenus Gossypium Section Gossypium : Gossypium herbaceum

Cultivated cotton species

There are many different game species, but only the cultivated cotton species are important for industrial cultivation. There are four species, two species from the Old World and two species from the New World . The two old world species are Gossypium herbaceum L. (so-called Levante cotton) and Gossypium arboreum L. (so-called Tree cotton), the two New World species Gossypium hirsutum L. (so-called highland cotton) and Gossypium barbadense L. (Syn .: Gossypium vitifolium Lam. ), The so-called Sea Island cotton . The last two species, on the other hand, evidently developed in prehistoric times after the transoceanic distribution of Gossypium herbaceum from a natural hybridization of Gossypium herbaceum and a New World species.

Old-world cotton like Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboreum is diploid , whereas New-world cotton like Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense is tetraploid . Gossypium hirsutum has the largest and therefore most important share in cotton production .

In the textile industry and processing, cotton is primarily differentiated according to its staple length (fiber length). Secondary, smell, color and purity also play a role. The longer a cotton fiber is, the higher the quality it is classified. According to the pile length, the four types mentioned can be divided into three categories. With a staple length of over 32 millimeters, Gossypium barbadense (common trade names are Egyptian Giza (Mako) cotton, Peruvian Pima cotton and Sea Island cotton), which accounts for around 8% of world production, provides the best quality . This is followed by a staple length of 25 to 30 millimeters and a share of 90% Gossypium hirsutum (so-called Upland cotton) and Gossypium arboreum and Gossypium herbaceum , which provide a short and coarse fiber (<25 mm) and about 2% of world production turn off.

Cultural history

Mummy bundle mask. Flat-woven cotton, painted in Paracas style. Cerror Uhle, Ica Valley (Peru). Textile exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History , New York.
Aztec robes. Around 1500
The importance of cotton for the Mesoamerican cultures is also shown by the fact that there was a cotton god like here with the
Wall hanging (Kalamkari), 1610/1640. Body paint, stained and stained. Cotton. One of numerous examples of Indian art from earlier eras, in which cotton played an important role as a load-bearing fabric

Origins and Early Development

Several centers are now accepted for the domestication of cotton, where this seems to have taken place at about the same time. However, there is still uncertainty about the wild stem form of the Gossypium cotton plant, which is widespread in the tropics and subtropics . The centers of origin are, on the one hand, southern Africa, where no early domestication can be proven, or India and Indonesia , on the other hand, the northern Andean region and possibly the southwest of North America or Central America.

Cotton has been used for thousands of years in very different cultural zones for the production of light clothing, but because of the toxic phenol gossypol , which is mainly contained in the seeds and their oil, it is not suitable for consumption except for ruminants and, unlike many other fiber plants, was therefore culturally and historically food irrelevant.

  • The oldest evidence of cotton comes from India. In Mehrgarh , the oldest Neolithic settlement in the Indus Valley, evidence of cotton seeds and fibers was found that dates back to around 6000 BC. Can be dated. This is the species G. arboreum . It is documented that it was processed here for the first time during the Indus culture , because remnants of cotton textiles have been found in Mohenjo-Daro , which could be dated to the 3rd millennium BC. Cotton is also used later in the Rigveda around 1500 BC. Mentioned. The Greek historian Herodotus noted about Indian cotton: “There are trees growing in the wild, from whose fruit one can obtain a wool that far surpasses the beauty and quality of sheep's wool. The Indians make their clothes from this cotton ”.
  • Africa: Gossypium herbaceum traditionally grew in Africa in open forests and grass savannas . However, unambiguous evidence of domesticated forms and products from them has not yet been archaeologically proven. However, the spread of the most closely related wild forms suggests a northerly spread to North Africa and the Middle East. It is therefore believed that Gossypium herbaceum was first domesticated in Arabia and Syria.
  • In the second millennium BC cotton from India reached the Babylonian Empire in Mesopotamia , Egypt and later Europe.

In ancient Egypt , cotton has been documented by grave finds since the New Kingdom , and also later in the Hellenistic East.

  • The ancient American peoples knew cotton long before its cultivation and processing was introduced into Europe by the Arabs via Spain and Italy in the Middle Ages . The New World species G. hirsutum in Mesoamerica and G. barbadense in South America are represented here .
    • The first cotton textiles made of domesticated cotton can be found in South America , here Gossypium barbadense , also from the 3rd millennium BC in the so-called pre -ceramic cotton of the Andes, when pottery was not yet known, but cotton was already grown. Archaeologically, examples of this type have been found in various places in Peru and Ecuador , particularly in Ancón, but z. B. also in Huaca Prieta , 1000 to 1500 years before the introduction of ceramics and the domestication of maize. Back then, cotton was mainly used for fishing and hunting nets, clothing and storage bags.

Cotton textiles have been documented in northern Chile , Peru and Ecuador since then , for example among the Nazca , where they have been archaeologically proven to have been preserved in dry highland areas. Towards the end of this period, wool from New World camels was also used because it was easier to dye .

However, the first clear evidence of the domestication of cotton, here G. barbadense , is much older. It comes from Ancón, a site on the central coast of Peru, where archaeologists found remains of cotton bolls dating back to 4200 BC. Could be dated. Around 1000 BC Then the cotton bolls from Peru could no longer be distinguished from the cultivated forms of G. barbadense today . So it seems entirely possible that cotton was used just as early in the New World as it was in ancient India.

  • The use of cotton is also attested for the pre-Columbian cultures of North America , for example for the Hohokam culture (300-100 BC) in Arizona. Overall, cotton cultivation began in southwest North America 3,000 years ago. The Navajos wore cotton clothes, as did the Anasazi of the Pueblo period (Phase I, 700-900 AD).
  • Central America: The oldest record of Gossypium hirsutum comes from the valley of Tehuacán and was dated to 3400 and 2300 BC. Dated. Archaeologists found remains of the fully domesticated form of this cotton in various caves in the area. Recent excavations in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca allowed a comparison with recent specimens of wild and domesticated G. hirsutum punctatum . It turned out that they could be descended from the same species that had originally been domesticated on the Yucatan Peninsula .

In various areas and cultures of Mesoamerica, cotton was a very sought-after commodity that was traded dearly. Mayan and Aztec merchants exchanged cotton for other luxury goods, and nobles adorned themselves with costly colored coats made of this material. Aztec kings often gave noble visitors cotton products and paid military leaders with them.

  • In classical antiquity , the Greeks and Romans valued cotton mainly for its delicacy and whiteness. It was in Rome after Alexander the Great reached India and brought the cotton with him, a coveted and luxurious import from the Orient, especially from India.
  • Further development in the Middle Ages and modern times:
    • From the 6th century AD, cotton became the common material for work clothes in the Middle East, Arabia and Egypt, and the Moors grew cotton extensively in Spain.
    • Various cultivars were grown in India very early on. As early as the 16th century, the Indian regions of Bengal , Punjab , Coromandel and Gujarat were centers of cotton processing. Gujarat was of particular importance, as its cotton products were traded through various trade routes to the centers of the Middle East.
    • In the New World , the Spanish conquistadors and explorers came across the cultivation and processing of cotton everywhere. Christopher Columbus , Hernando Cortes , Francisco Pizarro , Fernando de Magellan, and others shared the various purposes for which the fiber was used and admired the striped shade sails and colored coats that the natives made.
    • Around 1600, however, cotton was still a luxury item in Europe that was valued no less than silk . The reason for the high value was the high amount of work involved in processing. Removing the seed pods and the laborious carding of the fibers, which are very short compared to wool and silk, were particularly labor-intensive . It took 13 working days to gain one pound (the Anglo-American unit of measurement, the pound , which has approx. 453 g) of processable cotton threads. For a comparable amount of silk, on the other hand, only six working days were necessary, while it took two to five days for linen and one to two days for wool. Before 1750, English spinners were unable to spin cotton threads strong enough to make pure cotton fabrics. Pure cotton fabrics were only made in India.

The East India Company was already importing cotton cloths to England in the early 17th century and sold these textiles in spite of the bitter resistance of the wool producers, which was at times strong enough to legally prohibit the use of cotton cloth. In Manchester it was finally possible to establish cotton processing in England.

Spread of cotton in the Middle Ages and modern times

As early as the end of the 14th century, the Republic of Venice took over the trade monopoly on Levantine cotton and retained it until the 17th century. At the same time, cotton processing increased sharply at the large transshipment points north of the Alps. The focus was Augsburg , which supplied almost all European markets with its barchents .

With the strongly increasing East India trade , the import of spun raw yarn through the Netherlands grew, so that the monopoly of Venice became increasingly weaker. The rise of the British East India Company to one of the great trading organizations of the early modern period is also closely related to cotton. The very profitable spice trade was firmly in the hands of Portuguese and Dutch merchants at the beginning of the 17th century. The British East India Company therefore mainly traded in Persian silk , which reached Turkish markets via caravan routes through Syria . Traditional Indian cotton fabrics were also traded there, and the British company increasingly traded this fabric as well. However, the cotton industry did not take off until the end of the 18th and especially the beginning of the 19th century (spinning machines) in the course of the Industrial Revolution , first in England, then in France and Germany, where the cotton fiber gradually grew due to its greater availability through the increasing cultivation in the British colonies and the USA against the wool economically began to prevail as an alternative.

With the expansion of long-distance trade in the early modern period, cotton increasingly displaced linen ( flax ) and hemp for most areas of application in Northern and Central Europe .

With the invention of the spinning jenny in 1764, an early spinning machine with several spindles , and the water frame of Arkwright in 1769, the cost is mass production of textiles in the UK possible. While India mainly exported finished products to England before the industrial revolution, India then became a raw material supplier for the British textile industry.

In the 20th century , cotton increasingly faced competition from chemically produced fibers. Polyester fibers in particular are being used more and more frequently: in 2003/2004 they were processed in larger quantities for the first time than cotton and thus pushed them down to second place among textile fibers.

United States

African American slaves drying cotton (Edisto Island, South Carolina, ca.1862/63)
The first cotton gin machine . Illustration from Harpers Weekly magazine (1869) depicting a situation some 70 years older.

The first English settlers in North America saw little or no cotton in use among the natives. However, they soon began to import the fiber from the West Indies , and this is where the plant itself came from, which they now began to cultivate in the very similar climates and soils of the southern colonies. During the colonial period, however, cotton never became the main cultivated plant and was hardly an important crop because cotton could only be grown profitably if there was a surplus of extremely cheap labor available; and work in America, whether the workers were white or black, could never be or become as cheap as in India. American slaves could be used far more profitably in growing rice and indigo anyway . The reason was the enormous amount of work that arose during the harvest and afterwards, when the cotton fibers had to be picked by hand and carefully prepared for further processing. This only changed when cotton production in the southern United States - the so-called Cotton Belt - benefited from the invention of the egrenier machine (“Cotton Gin”) in 1793. Long-staple varieties such as Sea Island Cotton ( Gossypium barbadense ) had already been grown there in the coastal regions. In the hilly inland, on the other hand, only short-stacked varieties grew, which the slaves had only grown for personal use before the invention of the Egrenier machine. Due to the new technology, however, short staple cotton could also be processed inexpensively towards the end of the 18th century and into the 20th century and remained the most important export good of the American South , although the climate there is actually a bit too humid and not hot enough and it is this repeatedly resulted in crop failures due to rotting. Cotton was now also planted in the interior, displacing tobacco and grain there. In the decade from 1790 to 1800, the annual cotton exports alone rose from South Carolina from less than 10,000 to more than six million pounds (= Pound ) to. After the introduction of cotton cultivation, slavery became more widespread than ever before, for example in tobacco and rice cultivation. Cotton cultivation found its greatest expansion in the Black Belt , a region that stretched from North Carolina to Louisiana in the 19th century . In the period from 1812 to the mid-19th century, cotton production in this region grew from less than 300,000 bales to 4 million bales a year.

Growing the cotton required constant labor and painstaking care from the slaves for much of the year. Women were employed on the plantations as well as men, but the planters valued young workers. After the sowing, which took place in late March or early April, the plants had to be thinned out and replanted on an ongoing basis, an activity that the slaves occupied for most of the summer. When this phase was over in late July or early August, the planters temporarily put their slaves to work in fields of corn and peas. Cotton picking began in late August, a very monotonous and tiring activity that often dragged on until the end of the year or beyond. Inexperienced cotton pickers easily injured themselves on the sharp-edged seed pods. The final steps involved drying, coring and packing the cotton that was delivered in bales; Combing, spinning and winding often followed.

After the modern cultivation of cotton began in Florida in 1621 in North America and had remained economically insignificant for a long time, it now closed in the first half of the 19th century, not least due to the economic power of the great cotton growers in the southern states of the USA also a politically determining factor that ultimately contributed to the outbreak of the war of secession and the fall of the American southern states (slavery and different economic interests of the industrially oriented northern states, which wanted to shield their industrial production with protective tariffs, against the free trade and export of their agricultural products, above all just cotton, southern states considered).

The two most famous works that deal with this historical-economic situation against the backdrop of the slave-run cotton plantations of the old south are two novels: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (1936) and Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Hut (1859), plus the US TV series Torches in the Storm from the 1980s and 1990s. Gone with the Wind is generally viewed very positively by the critics (the film adaptation from 1939 may also play a role), while Uncle Tom's hut received criticism especially at the beginning, although it had a considerable influence on the end of slavery in the USA. Black Americans in particular still reject the book because of the underlying racism it contains. Kindler's literary encyclopedia writes: "Stowes recipe for passive expectation of the beyond had to appear to those patronized in this way [...] as irresponsible support of the prevailing power relations."


Many cotton species and cultivars are inherently perennial plants , but as annual plants cultivated. As a crop , it is usually only left in the field for one year in order to achieve the highest harvest yield. After the harvest or after a period of frost, the plants are usually cut off and worked into the soil for green manure. In fuel-poor regions, the dead, dry parts of the plant also serve as fuel.

In the northern hemisphere, depending on the location, sowing takes place between the beginning of February and the beginning of June. The harvest takes place between October and February. There are around eight to nine months between sowing and harvesting. Since the cotton often ripens unevenly, it is often harvested several times. Large cultivated areas are mostly harvested mechanically by cotton harvesters, while small cultivation fields and in less developed countries are often harvested by hand. Some picking machines can only harvest leaf-free plants, so either the first frost has to be waited for or chemical defoliants have to be used. This applies in particular to the low-growing, wind-resistant varieties ( storm proof cotton ), which are mainly grown in Texas . Hand-harvested cotton is almost always of a higher quality than machine-harvested cotton in terms of ripeness and dirt content. This is because harvesters also pick up unripe and overripe capsules, while only the ripe tufts of fibers are plucked by hand.

The long flowering time is problematic for the harvest, because it means that the capsules ripen over a period of several weeks. Overripe cotton, like immature cotton, is of inferior quality. Mechanical single harvests are therefore always a compromise between overripe, ripe and immature. Hand picking is more accurate, but requires a lot of manpower as several passes are required.

Cotton does well on heavy soils. Vertisoles are very suitable . It is not very demanding in terms of nutrient content. However, it is important to have an adequate water supply (600 to 1200 millimeters during the growing season). In areas with little precipitation, cotton crops are therefore dependent on artificial irrigation .

Today cotton - as a renewable raw material  - is grown on all five continents . For this purpose, cotton plants are used which, through breeding, produce more fibers than the wild plant. Transgenic cotton makes it easier to control pests and weeds and was planted on around two thirds of the world's cotton acreage in 2010. Cotton boll bolls and cotton boll beetles are some of the major cotton pests in America.

Growing conditions

The cotton boll beetle (
Anthonomus grandis ) is a feared cotton pest

The long growing season for cotton requires quick tillage and re-sowing after the harvest. Therefore, the cultivation is of intercropping to improve soil quality and to suppress weeds hardly possible. The consequences are the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity . Cotton is often grown with other crops without crop rotation, especially on large areas. As a result of these monocultures large-scale cotton production is strong of pesticides dependent. Cotton is considered to be the agricultural product with the highest use of chemicals . Cotton accounted for around 11% of the global pesticide market in 1999/2000 . It is therefore very questionable from an environmental point of view.

The water consumption is problematic. It depends on the climate, the nature of the soil and whether the plants are planted in rain-fed fields or with artificial irrigation. Up to 2000 liters of water can be required for the amount of cotton used to produce a T-shirt. Because of this high water requirement, 75% of the world's cotton is grown on artificially irrigated fields. In this context, the Aral Sea , once the fourth largest lake on earth , became particularly well known . The extraction of large amounts of water from its tributaries for cotton cultivation has led to extensive salinisation and ultimately to the almost complete disappearance of the lake since the 1960s during the Soviet kolkhoz economy .

Some cotton farmers rely on organic cultivation , so that there are also organic cotton products on the market today. At the beginning of 2010, the textile industry was shaken by large-scale fraud involving alleged organic cotton; a large part of the organic cotton from India was genetically modified. The fraud was discovered by Indian authorities in April 2009. Together with Western certification companies, numerous villages have declared genetically modified cotton as an organic product and circulated it in large quantities - a clear violation of the strict standards for eco-textiles. Well-known retail chains such as H&M , C&A and Tchibo are affected by the fraud . After a year-long increase in production, there was a slump of over a third in 2011. In 2008 the market share was 0.5%.

The small-scale cultivation of cotton is an essential part of the respective economies in many developing countries and represents the greatest export value and for many farmers the primary cash crop .

Growing areas

The world's most important cotton producers are the People's Republic of China , India, the USA , and Pakistan . In Europe , Greece is the only country with a larger production volume (9th place in the world rankings), followed by Spain with a lower volume - Turkey is one of the Asian nations here , as the main cultivation areas are in Asia. Most of the cotton is grown in the tropical and subtropical areas of Central America, India and Asia located in the so-called cotton belt between latitudes 43 degrees north and 36 degrees south.

Influence of the cultivation of cotton on the climate

Cotton cultivation contributes significantly to global carbon dioxide emissions , particularly through the high consumption of mineral fertilizers and pesticides . The production of a cotton T-shirt produces seven to nine kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ).

As part of a life cycle analysis , British scientists compared the environmental balance of various materials used for bags in 2011. Paper -Beutel, LDPE -Beutel, polypropylene - nonwoven -Beutel and cotton bags should be at least three, four, 11 or 131 times to be reused to a lower potential for global warming have than conventional HDPE -Beutel if they are not reused become. The use of cotton bags compared to plastic bags therefore only has a positive effect on the climate balance if they are used very frequently.

Genetics and Future Breeding

In 2010 a cotton genome was sequenced for the first time. The genome of this wild variety from Peru ( Gossypium raimondii ) has a much simpler structure than that of the cultivated varieties . According to researchers at the 5th meeting of the International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI) , this represents a significant step on the way to breeding new, high-yielding and resilient varieties through full knowledge.

Cotton fiber

Properties of the fiber

Fiber type

Natural fiber



Fiber length 15-56 mm
Fiber diameter 12-35 µm
density 1.51 g / cm³
tensile strenght 287-800 MPa
Specific tensile strength 15–55 cN / tex (dry)
modulus of elasticity 4.5–11 GPa (dry)
Elongation at break 6–10% (dry)
Specific electrical resistance 10 7 Ωcm
Thermal conductivity 0.54 W / (m K)
Water absorption 8th %

Cotton is a natural fiber that is obtained from the seed hairs of plants of the cotton genus ( Gossypium ). The seed forms longer hairs, called lint, as an extension of its epidermis , and very short hairs called linters three to five days after flowering. Only the long fibers , mostly spun into thin threads, are used for textiles, while the linters are only suitable for cellulose products .

Cotton is very absorbent and can absorb up to 65% of its weight in water. However, once cotton fabrics get wet, they dry slowly. In addition, cotton also has a high degree of dirt and oil absorption, but is also able to release them again. Cotton fabrics are very skin-friendly (they don't “scratch”) and have an extremely low allergy potential . These properties make them interesting for the textile industry.

The outer shape of the cotton fibers is flat, twisted and loop-like. The colors of the fibers vary from creamy white to dirty gray, depending on the manufacturing or preparation process. There is also cotton grown in color, mostly in green and brown.

Cotton is insoluble in water and more tear-resistant when damp or wet than when dry. The strengths and stiffnesses of the cotton fiber are lower than those of the bast fiber , the elasticity being significantly higher. The fibers are alkali-resistant, but not acid-resistant. Cotton is susceptible to attack by microorganisms , but it is quite resistant to moths and other insects. Cotton is easily flammable but can be boiled and sterilized.

In addition, the molecular structure of cotton makes its fibers resistant to heat and alkalis . Cotton is therefore particularly durable, even with heavy use and frequent cleaning. It was and is therefore used in areas of strong chemical and physical stress due to abrasion, tensile loads or exposure to salts and alkalis, for example in processing into fishing nets, canvas, cleaning textiles, in work and professional clothing as well as table and bed linen the hotel industry . Depending on the actual desired application, it is possible to refine the raw material cotton through numerous work steps to such a high degree that it can finally achieve a silk-like appearance, but still has its numerous other positive properties.


The main area of ​​application for cotton is clearly the textile industry. With a proportion of around 33% of the global production of textile fibers (including other natural fibers and man-made fibers) and a proportion of around 75% of natural fibers, cotton is by far the most frequently used natural fiber for home and clothing textiles. In addition to the textile industry, cotton fibers are also used in many other areas, for example as dressing material in medicine and in cosmetics and hygiene as cotton wool or cotton swabs .

Fishing nets , ropes and ropes are often made entirely or partially of cotton fibers, as do tents , tarpaulins and tarpaulins . In the past, fire hoses were also made from cotton. Cotton is used in the manufacture of some types of paper , cellulose , coffee filters , book covers and banknotes .

Cotton is also used as a reinforcement fiber for natural fiber reinforced plastics . The main areas of application for this are thermoset composite materials, especially for truck driver's cabs . Due to their high elasticity, adding cotton fibers to other natural fibers enables a significant improvement in the impact strength of these materials.

In the form of nitrocellulose , cotton is used to manufacture ammunition and explosives .

Cottonseed oil is a by-product of cotton production and, when refined, can be used as cooking oil or fuel. It is a basic ingredient in the cosmetic industry.

The residue remaining after pressing out the oil oil cake is often used as a protein-rich animal feed, however, due to its high gossypol content only on fully grown ruminants fed. The seeds can be pressed into about 20% oil and 50% cottonseed cake. Shells make up the rest.

In the United States, cottonseed was also used as a home remedy to induce an abortion .

Components and processing

Cellobiose (a glucose dimer) is the basic unit of cellulose

When processing the cotton, only around 10% of the raw weight is lost. When the wax , protein and other plant residues are removed, a natural polymer made of cellulose remains . Unlike many other natural fibers cotton has no lignin - or pectin ingredients and only a very small amount of hemicellulose of about 5.7%. As a result, the cotton fiber, in addition to the wax layer, consists almost exclusively of highly crystalline cellulose. The special arrangement of the cellulose gives the cotton a high tear resistance. Each fiber consists of 20 to 30 layers of cellulose in a twisted structure.

Economical meaning

Processed cotton as a sofa cover

World Harvest Cotton Lint

In 2018, a total of 24.19 million tons of cotton were produced worldwide (only lint without linter, see above). The ten largest producers together reaped 89.2% of world production:

Largest cotton producers (2018)
rank country Quantity
(in t )
1 China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 6,102,800
2 IndiaIndia India 4,690,000
3 United StatesUnited States United States 4,003,950
4th PakistanPakistan Pakistan 1,677,287
5 BrazilBrazil Brazil 1,627,070
6th TurkeyTurkey Turkey 976.600
7th AustraliaAustralia Australia 950.395
8th UzbekistanUzbekistan Uzbekistan 756,700
9 MaliMali Mali 405,000
10 MexicoMexico Mexico 400,000
world 24.190.796

World harvest of cotton seeds (Seed cotton)

Largest cotton seed producers (2018)
rank country Quantity
(in t )
1 China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 17,711,962
2 IndiaIndia India 14,657,000
3 United StatesUnited States United States 11,429,937
4th BrazilBrazil Brazil 4,956,044
5 PakistanPakistan Pakistan 4,828,439
6th TurkeyTurkey Turkey 2,570,000
7th AustraliaAustralia Australia 2,500,000
8th UzbekistanUzbekistan Uzbekistan 2,293,039
9 MexicoMexico Mexico 1,162,603
10 GreeceGreece Greece 837.432
world 71,029,358


Cotton has the recycling code -60 (TEX).

Health risks

Cotton fibers and their dusts, like all cellulose fibers , cannot be broken down by mammals due to the glycosidic bond of the type β1 → 4 . Depending on the cleaning process, there are also different amounts of remaining plant and bacterial antigens from the starting material. Frequent inhalation of the dusts of cellulose fibers leads to a bioaccumulation in the lungs, which can manifest itself in the clinical picture of byssinosis .

Genetic engineering

Transgenic cotton is mainly used to improve yield, only to a very limited extent for changing fiber quality. To facilitate cultivation, there are on the one hand modifications into which genes of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis have been transferred to increase the resistance to insects ( Bt cotton ), on the other hand herbicide tolerance, in particular glyphosate resistance .

Auxins play an important role in cotton fiber development. Researchers at the University of Southwest China (in Chongqing ) used genetic engineering to increase indole-3-acetic acid production in the epidermis of the plant at the beginning of fiber growth. This leads to an increase in the number and length of usable fibers (lint) and a decrease in the number of fibers that cannot be processed into textiles (linters). Field trials over four years showed that the lint yield in the transgenic plants was consistently more than 15% higher than in the conventional control groups. In addition, the fineness of the fibers improved.

See also


  • Sven Beckert : Empire of Cotton. A global history. Knopf, New York 2014, ISBN 978-0-375-41414-5 .
    • King Cotton: A Global History of Capitalism (translated by Annabel Zettel and Martin Richter). Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65921-8 .
  • Michael D. Coe (Eds.), Dean Snow, Elizabeth Benson: World Atlas of Ancient Cultures. America before Columbus. Christian, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-88472-107-0 , p. 204.
  • DA Farnie, DJ Jeremy (Ed.): The Fiber that Changed the World. The Cotton Industry in International Perspective, 1600-1990s. Oxford University Press, New York 2004.
  • Wolfgang Haberland: American archeology . WBG, Darmstadt 1991, ISBN 3-534-07839-X .
  • Herder Lexicon of Biology . 7 volumes, Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 1994, ISBN 3-86025-156-2 .
  • Henry Hobhouse: Five plants change the world: cinchona, sugar, tea, cotton, potato (original title: Seeds of change, Five Plants That Transformed Mankind , translated by Franziska Jung). 4th edition, dtv, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-423-30052-3 .
  • Hans Läng : Cultural history of the Indians of North America. Gondrom, Bindlach 1993, ISBN 3-8112-1056-4 .
  • Wolfgang Mönninghoff: King Cotton: Cultural History of Cotton . Artemis and Winkler, Düsseldorf 2006, ISBN 978-3-538-07232-9 .
  • Pietra Rivoli: travelogue of a t-shirt . An everyday product explains the world economy (original title: The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, translated by Christoph Bausum), Econ , Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-430-17765-8 .
  • C. Wayne Smith, J. Tom Cothren: Cotton: Origin, History, Technology, and Production. Wiley 1999, ISBN 0-471-18045-9 .
  • Ursula Völker, Katrin Brückner (Ed.): From fibers to fabrics. Textile materials and goods science . 34th edition, Handwerk + Technik, Hamburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-582-05112-7 .
  • Carina Weber, Dagmar Parusel: For example, Cotton , Lamuv, Göttingen 1995, ISBN 3-88977-408-3 (= Lamuv paperback , volume 117, south-north ).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c William Bernstein: A Splendid Exchange - How Trade Shaped the World. Atlantic Books, London 2009, ISBN 978-1-84354-803-4 .
  2. ^ RF Evert, K. Esau, SE Eichhorn: Esau's plant anatomy. John Wiley and Sons, 2006, ISBN 0-471-73843-3 .
  3. ^ Friedrich Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language . 24th edition, De Gruyter, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-11-017473-1 .
  4. ^ Webster, Volume I, p. 516.
  5. ^ Kluge, p. 478.
  6. a b c d Ya Tang, Michael G. Gilbert, Laurence J. Dorr: Malvaceae. : Gossypium Linnaeus , pp. 296–297 - the same text online as the printed work , In: Wu Zheng-yi, Peter H. Raven, Deyuan Hong (ed.): Flora of China. Volume 12: Hippocastanaceae through Theaceae , Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St. Louis, 2007, ISBN 978-1-930723-64-1 .
  7. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av Gossypium in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), USDA , ARS , National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  8. ^ Britannica , Volume 13, p. 683.
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  10. ^ FEM Gillham, TM Bell, T. Arin, GA Matthews, CL Rumeur, AB Hearn: Cotton Production for the Next Decade. (= World Bank Technical Paper Number 287). The World Bank, 1995, ISBN 0-8213-3312-7 .
  11. ^ .
  12. Herder-Lexikon Biologie , Volume 1, p. 384 f.
  13. Britannica , Volume 21, pp. 33 / 1b.
  14. Lexikon der Kunst , Volume 7, p. 266.
  15. ^ Coe, p. 204.
  16. Läng, pp. 32, 363 ff, 378; Haberland, p. 200.
  17. ^ Britannica, Vol. 17, pp. 482, 484.
  18. ^ Britannica , Volume 17, p. 487.
  19. .
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  22. Brockhaus , Volume 2, p. 658.
  23. Kindler, Volume 11, p. 775; Vol. 16, p. 41 f.
  24. Marina Chahboune: Alternatives to Cotton
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  35. a b c d e Kim L. Pickering (Ed.): Properties and performance of natural-fiber composites. Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge 2008, ISBN 978-1-84569-267-4 .
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  40. World man-made fibers production ( Memento of the original from August 25, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , CIRFS (Comité International de la Rayonne et des Fibers Synthétiques), accessed September 30, 2012.
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  51. Mi Zhang, Xuelian Zheng, Shuiqing Song, Qiwei Zeng, Lei Hou, Demou Li, Juan Zhao, Yuan Wei, Xianbi Li, Ming Luo, Yuehua Xiao, Xiaoying Luo, Jinfa Zhang, Chengbin Xiang, Yan Pei: Spatiotemporal manipulation of auxin biosynthesis in cotton ovule epidermal cells enhances fiber yield and quality . In: Nature Biotechnology , Volume 29, pp. 453-458. doi: 10.1038 / nbt.1843
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Web links

Commons : Cotton  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cotton  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations