Bolled over

If you had asked me three months ago, when my first cotton seedlings were zapped by a late spring frost, if I thought I’d be successfully growing cotton in August, I would have been skeptical. So it goes without saying now in the middle of August that I’m pleased with the progress the cotton has made during this extraordinarily hot and humid summer we’re having here in central Illinois. While many of the landscape plants and vegetables cry out for a daily drink from the hose, I can’t recall the cotton ever looking heat-stricken.

The cotton plants are now dotted with flowers and growing bolls, that look somewhat like a large, green acorn emerging from the finger-like sepals. The plants are actually attractive in texture and structure, and might make a good centerpiece in a mixed annual container.

Now that the cotton is growing so prolifically, I felt comfortable removing one of the bolls to get a closer look at it. The bolls are very firm to the touch, similar in texture to a green pecan husk and a bit like a miniature, dimpled lime-rind — beautifully green and blemish-free.

I couldn’t resist taking a knife to the boll to see what was inside. I didn’t know how early the cotton fiber starts to form, but from the looks of it, it starts right along with the boll development. The moist innards of the boll had a fresh green, almost sweet, scent. I pulled a bit apart with my fingers, and the young cream-colored seeds are wrapped in the developing cotton fiber that looked just like a damp version of the final product.

With my curiosity satisfied for now, I’ll continue to watch the cotton develop, eagerly awaiting the end of the season when the barbed bolls split open to reveal their white, fluffy contents. I honestly can’t wait.