The cotton plant is widely grown for its vegetable origin fibers, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Cotton is made up cellulose. Domestically cultivated cotton plants grow to 7 feet. The plant, considered a true tree, lives 10 years but is commonly grown as an annual in the commercial production of cotton.
Most cotton plants require tropical locations to flourish, but a few varieties offer higher hardiness. All are highly susceptible to freezing weather conditions and will quickly die if the weather dips too low for an extended time period. The cotton plant requires full sunlight for maximum growing potential.
As of 2010, 50 varieties of cotton plants are available, but only four varieties are grown and harvested for their fibers. The variety Gossypium hirsutum produces 90 percent of the world cotton fibers. Gossypium hirsutum produces the world's highest quality cotton, but it only accounts for 5 percent of the cotton produced worldwide. Gossypium arboreum produces short fibers. From the the four varieties are numerous cultivars.
Two months after the cotton seeds are planted, an abundance of flower buds begins to form. Buds do not begin opening for another three weeks. The flowers initially are white but fade to yellow. Gradually the yellow changes to pink, which quickly changes to a deep, dark red. Once the flower appears red, it dies and falls from the cotton plant. All that remains is the area the flower was attached to, known as the "boll".
The cotton boll changes from dark green to brown. The boll swells in the sun as the cotton fibers expand within its depth. Once the fibers expand to their maximum length and width, they burst the boll open. Each boll contains the cotton fibers, and within its depth is the cotton plants seeds. At this point in the plant's life, the cotton is ready for harvest.
Once cotton was picked by hand; now the cotton is picked using large machines known as "cotton strippers." The machine comprises rollers, bats and brushes. These mechanisms work to knock the bolls completely open, then an attachment that resembles a combine twists the cotton from the bolls as the machine drives over the crop, according to the Oregon State University. The harvested cotton is dumped into a boll buggy.