As winter temperatures reached record lows, Casa del Mar General Manager D.M. Williams had two concerns: The first was his orchids, which he wrapped to protect them from the cold. The second was his cotton plant.
Cotton thrives in warm temperatures and usually doesn’t survive the year’s first freeze, which was probably one reason that Williams had been able to grow three record-setting cotton plants, setting a total of four Guinness World Records at the resort. To preserve the plant, he brought in three gas heaters and left them burning under the plant, which had set its first record Oct. 23, 2009, at 30 feet, 4 inches tall.
On July 15, Longboat Key Fire Rescue Lt. Michael Murphy climbed up the ladder on a town fire truck to reach the top of the plant and held out the measuring tape, which he then lowered down to Casa del Mar Assistant Manager Mark Meador and Manatee County Agriculture Assistant Ervin Shannon to record the official height: 31 feet, 7 inches. Shannon gave a smiling Williams a pat on the back, as Williams stepped forward to confirm: Guinness World Record No. 5.
Casa del Mar’s cotton tales date back to about 1988, when Williams’ brother, Lonnie Trellis Williams, was visiting from California and said that the property’s garden needed a cotton plant. Williams refused, in part because his own history with cotton dated back even further, to the 160-acre Texas cotton farm where he and his 10 siblings grew up. His brother said it would bring back memories; Williams wasn’t sure he wanted those memories brought back. Finally, Williams agreed that he would plant cotton if his brother sent him the seeds.
Williams thinks he could have set a world record in 1992. A cotton plant just outside of the office had grown to 11 feet, 2 inches, compared to the average cotton-plant height of 3-and-a-half feet to 4-and-a-half feet. But Guinness World Records didn’t have a category for cultivated plants then, and creating one required lots of paperwork. In 2003, another plant on the property grew to 20 feet.
“I said, ‘Mark, we’re going to submit this one for the Guinness Book of World Records,’” Williams said.
Williams helped create the “cultivated plants” category, and, in 2004, his plant set a world record at 25 feet, 1 inch. That plant died the next year, but by 2006, another plant broke the previous record, recorded at 27 feet, 7 inches. In 2007, the same plant beat its own record at 29 feet, 6 inches. And when that plant died, the resort’s current plant took over record-setting duties.
Casa del Mar’s plants’ records have never been challenged.
Williams said that when he first submitted his plant for consideration, a Guinness World Records official based out of London told him there wasn’t much interest in cotton.
Williams told the official to check the tag of his shirt.
“Everyone in the world should be familiar with cotton because just about everyone in the world wears something made out of cotton,” he said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].