In ancient Europe people would dress themselves in the skins of hunted animals, and once the art of spinning was discovered, materials of various quality were woven from sheep wool as well as plant
fibers obtained from linen and hemp. These materials, although they were very strong and durable, were rough and not delicate in the least. One of the treasures brought from the East was delicate muslin, which appealed particularly to the women. Such materials were not able to be created from wool, and the actual origin of these threads was unknown. It only became clear when Herodotus, in 450 BC, wrote about an Indian tree from which fleece was collected, as off a sheep, and from this fleece a beautiful, delicate
fiber was woven. This information was repeated, supplemented and finally was transformed into the legend of the
'lamb tree' or 'vegetable lamb' - the Indian tree on which small sheep grow, with an amazingly soft fleece. They are embedded in the flowers which reach the
ground allowing the sheep to feed on the surrounding grass. After all of the nearby grass is eaten up, they dry up and die, leaving behind only their soft fleece. This information was recorded in the famous work 'Travels' by Sir John Mandeville in the middle of the XIV century, and in various other serious
treatises up until the XIX century.
If we look closely at the seeds of the open fruit of the cotton tree (Gossypium hirsutm)
[see inset], it is easy to imagine how such a legend was formed around this plant. As wool
was automatically associated with sheep, the cotton tree as seen in the field had to be
covered in sheep to explain the collection of this wool. Even the Polish word for cotton is connected to this legend. Germans, in the middle ages
coined the term 'Baumwolle' - literally wool from a tree, which when said in Polish turns out to be 'bawełna'.
However it looks like if the Russian word 'khlopok' is related to Sanskrit and
other languages of India.