Life Cycle of the Cotton Plant

Updated February 21, 2017

The United States has fourteen major cotton producers that produce one of five species of cotton: Egyptian, Sea Island, American Pima, Asiatic and Upland. Cotton is a slow-growing plant and requires at least 160 days that are frost-free. Cotton is typically grown in the southern portion of the United States, including Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri. These states have a lot of sun, fertile soil, a lot of water and a long growing season.


After the seed is planted, it takes up to five to 10 days to germinate and sprout. The cotton plant will grow two small leaves, called cotyledons, which will grab the sun and turn it in to nutrition for the plant through a process called photosynthesis. The process gathers nutrients that help the plant grow and develop a root system. Mississippi State University suggests that seeds should not be planted until the temperature reaches more than 16.1 degrees Celsius for at least 10 days. If it takes more than 10 days for the seed to produce strong cotyledons, the crop could be only 1/3 of the potential yield from the plant, according to MSU.


The initial leaves will assist the root system in its development. This root system is vital, because cotton is a rapidly growing plant and needs the support at the roots. After the system is developed, more leaves begin to appear. This will take two to four weeks. After the second set of leaves appear, the plant grows rapidly, reaching two to five feet tall while it adds more leaves rapidly. The strength of the seedling will determine the cotton harvest output.

Flowering or Squares

Flower buds, called squares, will appear on the plant within five to seven weeks after it is planted. They will be white, creamy flowers, and the pollination process begins within 24 hours of the buds appearance. Dry, hot days are necessary for pollination. One hundred degree Fahrenheit temperatures and little water are necessary during the pollination days. If either condition is not met, the cotton plant production will decrease severely.


Cotton fibres grow from the seeds inside the boll. The boll begins to appear for 20 days after pollination, and the plant focuses its nutrition in this area. After the boll stops growing, 15 to 25 days after pollination, the boll fills with cellulose.


After the cellulose has filled the boll, the boll bursts and the cotton spills out. These are called carpels, according to Cotton's Journey. The cotton that spills out is called locks, and once the carpels dry, they are called burr, according to Cotton's Journey. This will happen 105 to 130 days after the initial seed is planted. As the cotton dries, it is fluffed and matures.

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About the Author

Rebekah Smith is a writer and editor from Montana and the owner of several businesses. Smith has consulted and worked with businesses in the fields of commercial greenhouses, ecommerce, technology and home improvement. She holds a Master of Business Administration and is working on a Ph.D. in business.