Gossypium barbadense

Gossypium barbadense

Pima cotton (Gossypium barbadense), also known as Extra Long Staple, South American, Creole, Sea Island cotton, Egyptian, Algodon pais, and West Indische katoen, is a species of cotton plant which is widely cultivated though it originated in Peru. It is a tropical perennial plant that produces yellow flowers and has black seeds. It grows as a small, bushy tree and yields cotton with unusually long, silky fibers. In order to grow, it requires full sun and high humidity and rainfall. G. barbadense is also very sensitive to frost.

The first clear sign of domestication of this cotton species comes from Ancon, a site on the Peruvian coast where cotton bolls dating to 4200 BC were found. By 1000 BC Peruvian cotton bolls were indistinguishable from modern cultivars of G. barbadense. Cotton growing became widespread in South America and spread to the West Indies where Christopher Columbus came across it. Cotton became a commercial slave plantation crop in the West Indies so that by the 1650’s Barbados had become the first British West Indian colony to export cotton. In about 1670, planting of G. barbadense began in the British North American colonies when cotton planters were brought over from Barbados. (Among the earliest planters of Sea Island cotton in America was an Englishman, Francis Levett, who later fled his Georgia Plantation at the outbreak of the American Revolution and went to the Bahamas, where he attempted to introduce cotton production but failed.) It was however soon surpassed in commercial production by another native American species, Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) which today represents about 95% of U.S production.

This plant has antifungal properties and contains the chemical gossypol, making it insect resistant. It is also sometimes used as an anti-fertility drug. In Suriname’s traditional medicine, the leaves of G. barbadense are used to treat hypertension and delayed/irregular menstruation.

Egyptian Cotton

The term Egyptian cotton is usually applied to the extra long staple cotton produced in Egypt and favored for the luxury and upmarket brands worldwide. In fact, the cotton species which produces extra long staple "Egyptian" cotton is the native American species Gossypium barbadense which was introduced by Mohammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century. During the American Civil War, with heavy European investments, Egyptian-grown cotton became a major alternate source for British textile mills. Most of what is labeled "Egyptian cotton" today, however, also includes long staple cotton, the product of the other native American species Gossypium hirsutum The ancient Egyptians made their clothing from linen, a product of the flax plant.


  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

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