Monday, December 29, 2014

Cotton in Hawaii



In Hawaii, the cotton plant, Gossypium tomentosum, is a perennial shrub lasting about 3-5 years, depending on growing conditions. In Hawaiian, it is called Ma’o. This plant can be found growing in coastal plains and dry forests primarily on the leeward sides of the main Hawaiian Islands. Ma'o naturally grows in hot, dry, windy coastal areas tolerating the salty spray. Conversely, the plant does not do well in locations with continuous high rainfall and in waterlogged soil.

Periodic pruning is necessary to control the height, to keep the shrub full and to prevent low lying branches from spreading.

In 1838, a commercial cotton industry was actually started in Kailua on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although it lasted for about a century, cotton never became an important trade item. Even though early Hawaiians stuffed pillows with the fibers, the cotton was not used as a fabric. 

 For more information on Ma’o, see the website for native plants in Hawaii at  http://nativeplants.hawaii.edu/plant/view/Gossypium_tomentosum 
and refer to the UH CTAHR publication entitled, “Ma’o (Hawaiian Cotton). 

Photos by Forest and Kim Starr