Cotton plant

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Cotton plant

 

 

The species that yield cotton belong to the genus Gossypium, Malvaceae. There are about 40 species in the genus, native to the tropics and the subtropics. In India about 20 species were recorded, but Gossypium stocksii Mast., a west Asian species that grows in the Kutch area of Gujarat is regarded as the only wild species in India. The species are divided into four groups, basing on their being in cultivation or occurring in the wild and on their nativity to the Old or the New World. The cultivated cottons belong to one of the four species, Gossypium barbadense L., (from west Indies), Gossypium hirsutum L., (from Central America), Gossypium arboreum L., (the tree cotton from Africa), Gossypium herbaceum L., (from Asia). The cottons now in cultivation in different parts of the world are improved varieties, and hybrids among these four species (see photographs of the flower, interior of the flower and the cotton boll). Consequently, only the breeder knows the pedigree of a particular cultivated variety. Added to these several cultivated varieties, a transgenic cotton, with genes for pest resistance from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (the Bt cotton) has been developed and is now in extensive cultivation in different parts of the world.

Species of Gossypium have several medicinal uses in India.

The root of Gossypium arboreum is used in fever. The seeds are used in gonorrhoea, gleet, chronic cystitis, catarrah and consumption.

The seeds of Gossypium barbadense are used in dysentery. The seed oil is used to clear freckles and spots from the skin.

The seeds of Gossypium herbaceum are used as a demulcent, laxative, expectorant, galactagogue, aphrodisiac, to procure abortion, as a nervine tonic given in headache. The root and the bark are emmenagogue and galactagogue. The juice of the leaves is used against scorpion sting and snakebite.

The leaves and seeds of Gossypium hirsustum are used in Guinea as an emollient and emmenagogue.

In general, the cotton plant has the following medicinal uses:

a cold infusion of the cotton leaves with lime juice is given in dysentery; the root bark is an emmenagogue and oxytocic; the leaves and crushed seed kernels are used as a poultice on sores bruises and swellings. The most widespread use of cotton is in surgical bandages, for which no substitute has been found.

In Nigeria, the root is considered as an emmenagogue, with action similar to that of ergot. American Negroes also use the root bark to induce abortion. Decoction of the root is given in amenorrhoea. The south American Africans use the decoction of the root as a contraceptive.

Cotton seed oil goes into the manufacture of hydrogenated fats (such as vanaspathi). Seed cake is fodder and seed husk is used as fuel.

The kernel oil is composed of 47 per cent of linoleic acid, 23 per cent palmitic acd and 23 per cent of oleic acid, with small amounts of myristic and myristoleic acids. The residual cake is 97 per cent protein. The root bark also contains vitamin E.

The root bark and the pigmented glands of the seeds contain gossypol, a toxic orange red polyphenol, which is insoluble in water and is thermolabile. Hence heating makes the oil suitable for consumption.

Gossypol was shown to be antiviral, influenza virus is inactivated by it. Gosssypol is effective against herpes. The roots of Gossypium barbadense and Gossypium hisrsutum contain 6-methoxygossypol and 6,6-dimethoxygossypol. These are antifungal.

Gossypol is a nerve and cellular poison, causing liver congestion and oedema of the lung. A horse weighing 450 kg cannot tolerate more than 450 g of the oil cake per day. Gossypol can cause haemorrhage, inflammation, haematuria, muscular weakness, respiratory difficulties and paralysis, as well as abortion and blindness. Gossypol is spermicidal.

Gossypol is also present in Thespesia populnea of the same family Malvaceae (see the profile).