PLANTS IN PROFILE # 27
WILD COTTON ( Gossyplum hirsutum)
The newest addition to the Mound House botanical collection is a native plant often found on ancient shell middens such as ours here at Mound House. In the wild, growing amongst the coastal hammocks and thickets, wild cotton grows as a shrub and can reach heights of 6 to 12 feet living for several years. The native range of wild cotton includes southern Florida, Mexico, northern South America , Central America and the West Indies. People have been cultivating and using cotton for over two thousand years, spinning the fibers of the cotton bolls into fabric and string. Today, modern varieties of cotton are the most widely used natural fiber in the world and the seeds of cotton are used in the production of oils and animal food. In herbal medicine, cotton seed and roots have been used to treat asthma , dysentery and cancer and is occasionally planted as an ornamental. Interestingly, in Florida, a permit is required from the State to grow wild cotton, even though it is listed as an endangered plant. Oddly, this plant achieved its endangered status due to extensive eradication efforts in the 1930s which nearly obliterated wild cotton from the Florida. Wild cotton was eradicated in an effort to prevent the spread of boll weevils from wild sources into cultivated crops. Even though there is no cultivated cotton crop within several hundred miles of the Mound House and our plants, the Florida Department of Agriculture still requires a permit to grow cotton and monitors the site with insect traps to detect the potential presence of the boll weevil.