A Guide to Ethnobotany

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"A Guide to Ethnobotany"
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ETHNOBOTANY OF COTTON (Gossipium herbaceum):

Cotton (Gossypium sps.) is the world's most important non-food agricultural commodity and its importance in human life is unprecedented. The objective of this paper was to understand the ethnobotany of cotton with special emphasis on Gossypium herbaceum. Literature was reviewed from textbooks, scientific papers and online resources. Archaeological evidence indicate that cotton is Old World crop and different species of cotton were domesticated independently in 6000 B.C. Gossypium herbaceum was native to Asia and Africa. The invention of the cotton gin and the mechanization of textile production in the Industrial Revolution enabled cotton to supersede flax and wool textiles. Currently, the leading producers of cotton are China, United States, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Turkey.

Cotton is the world's most important non-food agricultural commodity and its importance in human life is unprecedented. All types of clothing, cushions, drapery, medical supplies and industrial products that are used daily are composed of, or inspired by cotton. The cottonseed that remains after the cotton is ginned is used to produce refined cottonseed oil. The cottonseed meal is generally fed to livestock.

Cotton is a soft, fluffy, naturally occurring fiber plant that can be processed into an wide range of materials and goods. Cotton belongs to Gossypium(Linnaeus). The plants belonging to Gossypium have lysigenous glands and these glands contain a number of sesquiterpenes, collectively called gossypol. Only those species of Gossypium producing seed hairs can accurately be called cotton(2).

The origin, evolution, and domestication of cotton remains a mystery. The objective of this article was to study and understand the ethnobotany of cotton, with special emphasis on Gossypium herbaceum.

Historical perspective of cotton production:
Cotton belongs is old World cultivated crop and four species of cotton have been domesticated, namely, G. herbaceum, G. hirsutum, G. barbadense and G. arboreum.
The focus of the study was G. herbaceum that originates from one of the eight Vavilonian centre - Central Asiatic Center; G. herbaceum is native to Asia and Africa. Archaeological evidence indicates that pre-Harrappan and Indus valley civilization (Mohenjodaro) domesticated this species of cotton in 6000 B.C (1,2,3,4,5,6 and 11).

Cotton was known to the Egyptians from around 3000 B.C.(2). The famous Greek historian Herodotus wrote about Indian cotton: "There are trees which grow wild there, the fruit of which is a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep. The Indians make their clothes of this tree wool." (Book III. 106). In the following century, Alexander the Great introduced cotton from India into Greece. The early Greeks and Romans used cotton for "awnings and sails," and clothing (2). During the late mediaeval period (14th Century), cotton became an imported fibre in northern Europe. Through ocean trade routes cotton found its way to the New World (4) and by the begining of the 17th century, cotton was cultivated throughout the warmer regions in Asia and the Americas (11).

The advent of the Industrial Revolution in Britain accelerated cotton manufacture(11). The invention of the spinning jenny (1764) and Richard Arkwright's spinning frame (1769) enabled British weavers to produce cotton yarn and cloth at a much higher rate (11). Due to the low cost of cotton production, by the 17th century United States became one of the leaders in cotton production and export. "The invention of the cotton gin (Eli Whitney, 1793) and the mechanization of textile production in the Industrial Revolution enabled cotton to supersede flax and wool textiles" (11).

Current innovations in cotton industry:
In early 20th century with the development of instruments to quantitatively measure cotton fiber properties has helped breeders to develop cotton-varieties, having varied length, strength, and fineness and resistance to pests and diseases. With the latest innovations in spinning wmachines, focus has been on increasing strength so the fiber can with-stand these latest spinning machines and weaving looms that move at incredible speeds. Recently, genetically modified cotton are being developed that can resist insect-infestation. Another important technology currently studied by the University of Texas, Austin employs an eight-row GPS-guided cotton picker with an on-board module builder. These and other innovations have changed cotton production into a high-tech enterprise (10).

Current production of cotton:
The leading producers included China, United States, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Turkey (5). Currently, cotton ranks just behind corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay among the leading cash crops of the United States agriculture and is among the nation's principal agricultural exports (5). The leading cotton producing states, also known as the Cotton-Belt, are Texas, California, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona (5).

1. Heiser, Charles Bixler 1920. Seed to Civilization- The story of food
2. "Cotton." Microsoft (r) Encarta(r) 96 Encyclopedia. 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation.
3. Smith, C. Wayne. Crop Production, Evolution, History and Technology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995

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