Stages of a Cotton Plant

With a Pigweed Addendum

Pigweed Plant in the Mississippi Delta

Pigweed Plant in the Mississippi Delta


Clarksdale, Mississippi (VIDEO)

We love cotton in the Mississippi Delta. We grow it, wear it, think about it, talk about it and are thankful for it. It is a complicated, expensive crop to grow, but the fruiting process makes for some pretty scenery and the product blesses the whole world and our local economy!

I “chop cotton” during the summer for some folks south of town. For Yankees and the uninitiated—no offense intended—Yankees can’t help where they wuz born and folks who don’ know nothin’ about cotton shouldn’ be ashamed; and for Southerners who moved too far up North, well, I ain’ sure what to say, but “choppin’ cotton” just means chopping weeds that are resistant to chemicals.

So, I don’t chop the cotton plant; I chop the weeds growing in there amongst ‘em: pigweed (Palmer Amaranth), coffee bean plant, wild cotton, mare’s tail and the occasional plant of a different row-crop species, which voluntarily comes up from last year. And sometimes I run across something I can’t place, so I call my friend, Mr. Lil John, and he always gives me an answer. If it has a reddish flower, he tells me they call it red top; if it has a white flower, then he calls it white top, yellow tint, then yellow top. So, I kinda quit asking him and I chop it any way!

Now, don’t be hatin’ on farmers who use chemicals, because they have to do so. Due to excellent soil, plenty of water (most years), and killa growing conditions, the Mississippi Delta produces lots of invasive plant species and bugs, which left unchecked would render the world just about foodless and sans an important natural fiber. In other words, we would be overgrown without the judicious use of chemicals, and due to the price of the nasty things and the fact that most farmers are conservationists, because they do love to hunt and fish and enjoy God’s splendor, they ain’ gonna use any more than they have to. End of discussion.

Primary row crops in the Delta include cotton, corn, soybeans, rice, peanuts, winter wheat and a little bit of milo. Cotton is the primary crop that is still chopped manually, but soybeans and peanuts also get the blade.

In the accompanying video I explain the rudimentary stages of a cotton plant from the time it produces a square until it blossoms with white fiber. I also talk a little bit about pigweed. I took the video of the stages twice, as a teacher friend wanted to use a “clean” version for her elementary-age children. Yep, I said tit-high and ass in the first one. Some times I just can’t help myself and when in a field, there ain’t but one of me unless it ain’ me, so I figure ain’ nobody listenin’, unless I am recording.

Cotton, it’s what’s for dinner! Sorry, I think that was beef! pw


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  1. Recently, my daughter was walking down the sidewalk downtown and heard some tourists talking. They were standing in front of a storefront window display that contained cotton plants. One said,” I just dont understand their fascination with these dead cotton plants.”. Another said, ” I know they are really ugly.”…..My daughter was surprised by their conversation, but tickled.
    She was in such a hurry and didnt have time to explain “cotton” to them. She told me later,” I bet that there is some kind of plant in their hometown that is significant to them”

  2. robert e kingsbury says:

    In the song “Ode to Billie Joe” Bobby Gentry sings ” It was the 3rd of June , another sleepy, dusty delta day; I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was bailin’ hay ” . I know nothing about harvesting cotton but I was always suspicious of that line. Would someone be chopping cotton on the 3rd of June ? Isn’t cotton harvested later in the year ?

    • Hi Robert,
      Choppin’ cotton means chopping weeds in a cotton field and it would have been done then!

      Thanks for reading, watching and commenting!

    • Frank Wilson says:

      Chopping cotton refers to hoeing the weeds when the plants are still growing (from around June to August or so. Picking cotton usually takes place August-October.

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