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Thurber's Cotton

Gossypium thurberi

Photo © by Michael Plagens

Photographed along the Apache Trail Apache Trail, e. Maricopa Co., Arizona on 30 May 2009.

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FLOWERS: Very similar to the five-petaled flowers of cultivated cotton, but usu. a bit smaller. A tint of pink is often present on the cream or white petals. Numerous stamens with fused filaments.

SHRUB: Shrubby plant that can under ideal conditions grow as a small tree. In the Sonoran Desert plants are generally a meter to two meters tall.

LEAVES: Palmately lobed with usu. three or five narrow segments.

RANGE: Usually growing on rocky slopes or at road sides from the Superstition Mountains of Maricopa Co., Arizona, and hence south into Mexico and Texas. More frequent in foothills around Tucson.

FRUIT: The carpel segments of the small boll split open on maturity. Cotton? Look closely for a few gossamer strands of cotton fiber adhering to the large seeds.


In the 1930's attempts were made to erradicate this plant from the mountains and foothills of southern Arizona. The reason being that a weevil (small beetle) that feeds within the developing bolls was thought to be the same as the infamous Cotton Boll Weevil. Later, taxonomic studies by Dr. Floyd Werner determined that the Thurber Weevil was not the same and that it did not affect cultivated cotton. Luckily the erradication efforts failed and the plant has returned to be a common, attractive plant. Thurber's Cotton makes a nice addition to xeriscape gardens and can be pruned to become a 'cotton tree'.

Malvaceae -- Mallow Family

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2009