We have entered the micro-season of “The Cotton Lint Opens”. This is the first micro-season of the mini-season of Limit of Heat. The other micro-seasons within Limit of Heat are:
- The Cotton Lint Opens (Aug 23-Aug 27)
- Earth and Sky Begin to Cool (Aug 28 – Sep 1)
- The Rice Ripens (Sep 2 – Sep 6)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to honor this season, we will explore the taxonomy of the cotton plant and its processing process. Then we will read haiku by Basho, Gewi, Gorgone, and Wright.
The Cotton Plant
The plant we commonly call cotton, which is estimated to be 10 million years old, has the scientific name of Gossypium and is part of the Mallow family. Other plants in the Mallow family include hollyhock, okra, and hibiscus.
Cotton is a native plant to most tropical and subtropical regions of the world.(1) There are 50 different species of cotton within the larger Gossypium genus. Cotton can grow in the form of shrubs or trees depending on its species.(2)
The Domestication Of Cotton
As early as 3,000 BC farmers in India and Egypt were growing cotton for clothing.(3) Through careful observation, these early farmers noticed that all cotton plants were not the same. There were distinct differences in the seed fibers and fiber density. As a result, these farmers began selectively breeding and cultivating the crop. The goal was to grow cotton that produced longer and stronger fibers that were more useful for spinning yarn.
After hundreds of years of selective cultivation, four cotton species have risen to the top of the domestic cotton crop.
Top Four Species Of Cotton
There are four main commercially grown species of cotton.(4) They are:
- Gossypium hirsutum – Native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and southern Florida, this species makes up 90% of the world’s commercial cotton production
- Gossypium barbadense – This species is native to tropical South America and makes up about 8% of the world’s commercial cotton production.
- Gossypium arboreum – This species is also known as tree cotton and is native to India and Pakistan. It makes up less than 2% of the world’s commercial cotton.
- Gossypium herbaceum – This species is native to southern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and makes up less than 2% of the world’s commercial cotton production.
Cotton: From Planting To Manufacturing
The process of taking cotton from a seed to store shelves is complex. However, it can be simplified into these five major parts.(4,5,6)
Cotton, a perennial plant, needs four to five months of warmth and sunshine to reach maturity. In the United States, cotton may be planted as early as February in southern Texas and as late as June in the northern parts of Missouri. Before planting, soil temperatures need to have reached 60 degrees Farenheight. Cotton is a delicate plant that cannot withstand frost.
Seedlings emerge a week or two after planting. Four to six weeks after planting, flower buds begin to form. The flower bud is called a “square”. Squares grow for three weeks before they flower. After the flower falls, the cotton boll forms. The cotton boll is the mature fruit of the plant and is where the cotton seeds and lint grow. When the bolls open up it is time to harvest. Cotton’s growing season is approximately 150 -180 days.
Harvesting may start as early as July in southern Texas and as late as November in the northern areas. Commercial harvesting in the United States is done by two different types of machines. The first machine is called a “stripper harvester”. These harvesters are primarily used in Texas and Oklahoma, and they “have rollers or mechanical brushes that remove the entire boll from the plant.”(6)
The other type of harvester is called a “spindle picker”. These types of machines “pull the cotton from the open bolls using revolving barbed spindles that entwine the fiber and release it after it has separated from the boll.”(6) After harvesting is completed, the cotton is stored in containers called modules and then delivered to the Gin.
The cotton gin was invented in 1794 by Eli Whitney.(7) This machine is “designed to separate the seeds from the cotton harvested from the plant. The process uses a small screen and pulling hooks to force the cotton through the screen.”(7) Today’s commercial ginning facilities also include drying and cleaning stations. The end product of the ginning facility is called a cotton bale. A cotton bale can weigh 500 lbs and these modern facilities can produce anywhere between 12 to 60 cotton bales an hour.(6) Once the cotton is in bale form, it can move to a textile mill for manufacturing.
Textile mills transform the cotton bales into yarn. The yarn is either woven or knitted together to make a fabric. Weaving, which is the oldest way to turn yarn into fabric, is done on a loom. The loom holds the threads of yarn in place to help facilitate the interweaving of the material. The vertical threads are called the “warp” and make the skeleton of the fabric. The horizontal threads are called “weft” threads and are moved back and forth through the warp by a shuttle.
Knitting of fabric is done with needles that interlock the loops of yarn. “Lengthwise rows of these loops, comparable to the warp yarn in woven goods, are called wales. Crosswise rows, comparable to filling yarns, are known as courses.”(6) After the fabric is made, it still needs to be cleaned, dyed, treated, and assembled. Finished cotton products can be anything from socks and blue jeans, to wall coverings and bookbindings.
Cottonseed: The Other Cotton Product
Cotton is both a fiber crop and a food crop. Cottonseed, which is separated from the fiber in the ginning process, makes up about ⅔ of the harvested cotton crop.(8) Five percent of that harvested seed is saved for replanting, the remainder will be turned into either oil, meal, or hulls.(6)
Cottonseed oil is used as cooking oil, shortening, and salad dressings. The meal and hulls become livestock, poultry, and fish feed, or a component of fertilizers. (8)
According to the World Kigo Database, cotton’s seasonal connection depends on what stage of the plant you are referencing. Therefore, to use cotton as a kigo you will need to add some other descriptors such as “sowing”, “harvesting”, or “flowering” to locate it within a season.
For example, the first haiku we have by Basho puts the cotton plant in summer in between planting and harvesting season.
a field of cotton— as if the moon had flowered (Translated by Robert Hass)
This next haiku comes from the Yemeni poet Heike Gewi.
cotton blossoms - white when I arrived red when I left
Dr. Greves explains that in Yemen the cotton plant blossoms in late summer into autumn. Then, with the reference to the changing of the blossom color, this puts this haiku squarely in the autumn category because “The blossoms change their color in two days from white to pink in red/purple”.(9)
Judith Gorgone, who lives in Georgia in the United States, wrote this next cotton haiku
white christmas along the road home drifts of cotton
This haiku places the drifts of cotton in winter along with the Christmas holiday.
Finally, Richard Wright wrote this haiku which seems like a summer haiku to me.
From a cotton field To magnolia trees, A bridge of swallows
Richard Wright (1908–1960) “is recognized as one of the preeminent novelists and essayists of the 20th century. He is most famous for writings depicting the harsh realities of life for Black Americans in the Jim Crow–era South: the short story collection Uncle Tom’s Children (1938); the novel Native Son (1940)”. (10) Near the end of his life, he wrote an estimated 4,000 haiku. In 1998, These haiku were published in a book titled, Haiku: This Other World. This collection was later republished as Haiku: The Last Poems of Richard Wright in 2012.
A Haiku Invitation
Over the past couple of weeks, I have invited you to use the micro-season theme (cicada or fog) as inspiration for your own poetry. The responses were so great I thought I would continue this haiku invitation.
So, if you are up for the challenge, write your own haiku or senryu using cotton as inspiration. Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post.
I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Gossypium”; Wikipedia
- “The Evolution of Cotton”; Genetic Science Learning Center
- “Cotton Story”; CottonAcres.com
- “Cotton”; Wikipedia
- “Cotton Plant and Its Different Parts”; CottonAcres.com
- “Cotton From Field to Fabric” Cotton.org (PDF)
- “Cotton Gin”; CottonAcres.com
- “Frequently Asked Questions”; National Cotton Council
- “Cotton (wata)”; WorldKigoDatabase
- “Richard Wright”; Poetry Foundation
- Basho haiku was retrieved from “The Literary Nest Poetry Journal”.
- Heike Gewi and Judith Gorgone’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database.
- Richard Wrights’ haiku was retrieved from an essay by Toru Kiuchi in JuxtaSix: Research and Scholarship in Haiku 2020, Haiku Foundation.
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