Plant of the Month — June 2007
Gossypium australe F.Muell. — Native Cotton
It is the time of year when temperatures are cooler and thoughts of northern Australia tempt the traveller in search of warmth. Gossypium australe, a plant of the Malvaceae family, is of that region: a plant of red sandy-loam soils whose flowers may be viewed between April and October by residents and visitors alike. Its range extends from Exmouth Gulf across the north of the State and into the Northern Territory. It grows in height from 1–3 metres and has large, soft, hairy leaves and a straggly habit.
The attractive flowers of this genus are hibiscus-like and occur in colours of mauve and pink. This ‘wild cotton’ is in fact one of the true relatives of cotton and as such it is likely that the seeds are poisonous. In the landscape it falls into the category of a ‘middle storey’ plant, that is, it grows among woody shrubs and shrubby trees.
The name of Gossypium is taken from the Latin, gossypion, the name used by the Roman historical compiler, Pliny, (23 A.D.–79 A.D.) for the genus; this in turn being derived from the Arabic qutn, cotton, hence Australian Cotton or Native Cotton. Pliny was a diligent student of Latin and Greek writings on all subjects. His major work, the Natural History in 37 books, was completed in 77 A.D., two years before his death and has survived in an almost complete state. This compendium has great value as it affords information on the work and views of his contemporaries whose writings have been lost. Pliny discussed about 1000 plants and his work exercised great influence upon the names by which plants were known throughout the middle ages. Therefore, when the scientific study of botany began to emerge in the Renaissance, Pliny’s names were often those which were used by the early scholars and so transmitted into modern nomenclature.
Photo: C.P. Campbell
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