As a child growing up in Hawaii I remember occasionally finding a cotton bush in someone’s yard, and being fascinated by them. I would pick the cotton and use it to stuff little dolls pillows. So I was aware of cotton in Hawaii, but it was definitely a novelty.
On my latest trip back I noticed cotton bushes everywhere: in yards and semi-wild along the road. Once again, I was fascinated. Had someone started a trend for cotton as a landscape plant? Had one bush seeded successfully across the island? Had the wet summer provided the perfect conditions to start a cotton boom?
I meant to stop and take pictures and investigate a bush so that I could tell you about it the whole trip, but there was always too much to do, and I was too busy. Then, on the way to the airport to fly home we stopped at a neighbors house, and there was a cotton bush. So here are my extremely rushed, 11th hour, cotton images.
The bush itself isn’t that attractive: it’s kind of weedy and scraggly looking. The overall impression with the bolls bursting forth with their snowy white interiors is quite striking though, so they look gorgeous as a background plant.
The bolls themselves are stunning, especially when they have just begun to burst, and are still held in tight ovals. The cotton is just so shiny and lustrous.
This may sound a little silly, but I was surprised by how cottony it was – I expected that all the treatment they give cotton would change the texture, but except for the horrible treated cotton balls they put in the top of medicine bottles (True story: I have to hand those to someone else to extract and discard, and I even leave the room while they do it), this stuff really felt like cotton.
I picked one nice boll of cotton fluff to try to bring back to NZ with me. I didn’t have much hope that DOC would let it in, but I hoped that if I pulled out all the seeds it might be OK – and it was! I declared it, explained, pulled out the sample and they were just fine with it. I’m so excited that I have a piece of untreated cotton I can show my students, without risking NZ’s fragile environment.
While it’s nice to have a bit of cotton here in NZ, it’s the prospect of cotton growing in Hawaii that have really got me thinking. The cotton was just growing wild, and was thriving. Surely that means that there is a potential to grow it more commercially?
I’m not advocating conventional cotton propagation in Hawaii, or even commercial organic cotton. These options are both are too water greedy and tilling intensive for Hawaii. Cotton is a very environmentally unfriendly crop, at least in the state it is currently being grown in. Organic cotton, for all its eco-hype is only marginally less un-sustainable, certainly not actually eco-friendly.
Perhaps Hawaii could create a space for truly sustainable cotton propagation. It would have to be very small scale, something scattered enough to avoid the pitfalls of mono-cropping, and the vagaries of Hawaiian rainfall. I’m envisioning a system where lots of people have one or two bushes in their backyard. The cotton could be processed and dyed locally, using natural local dyes. The resulting items would be costly, but Hawaii is so isolated that shipping in items drives up their cost considerably, making local products, even potential luxury ones like eco-cotton garments, more affordable in comparison.
Is it possible? I don’t know. Is it practical? It will be more so as the global cotton crop, and the global petrol supply, are put under more pressure. Will it happen? Watch this space?