Flowering tobacco plant gains recognition
April 12, 2015
By Jane Stephens/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY Wikipedia.org.
The sticky-leaved Nicotiana plant has trumpet-shaped florets with five points that can be found in white, red, rose, pink or lavender and are known for their fragrance.
We all know about tobacco plants, but have you heard about the flowering tobacco plant? It seems that few gardeners are aware of this wonderful, little-known plant that was mentioned in 1753 when the French ambassador to Portugal brought it home in powdered form to cure the queen's son of his migraine headaches.
With its high concentration of nicotine, the plant, a cousin of nightshade, is poisonous. There seems to be no record of the queen's son after this one notation. We can only hope that another ambassador brought something else to help the young prince. I think the queen would have preferred something nonpoisonous.
Can be grown from seed
These plants, also known as nicotiana, are easy to grow. They can be grown from seeds and started indoors for an earlier outdoor start. If you are starting your seeds outside, wait until all chance of frost has passed and cover seeds lightly with no more than 1/8
Best growing conditions
Nicotiana flowering tobacco is most often grown and sold as an annual plant, although some species of the nicotiana flower are really a short-lived perennial. These plants seem to do best when planted between 6 and 12 inches apart. They will bloom in partial or full sun, but most gardeners insist that they really do much better in the full sun.
They want a well-drained area, and they do like lots of water with moist, but not wet, soil. They will need fertilizer with a high phosphorous formula just before the blooming period starts. The fragrant flowering tobacco will then bloom all summer. If you have trouble finding the seeds for the nicotiana, most species are available from mail order or online seed sources.
Available in various colors
The nicotiana is considered an heirloom flower and is rapidly gaining recognition among gardeners. The five-pointed florets are trumpet-shaped and are available in white, red, rose, pink and lavender. These sticky-leaved plants belong to the large and diverse Solanaceae or nightshade family. There are more than 60 species of nicotiana, but only a few of them are important to the ornamental gardener.
Some species of this plant will be as tall as 5 feet, while the newer hybrids have been developed to stay around 12 to 18 inches tall making them much more popular with most gardeners. This size also makes it ideal for the container gardener. These plants will provide you with beautiful cut flowers for months. If the fragrance is important, remember that all of the hybrids have not been able to keep their lovely aroma.
Selected Plant of the Year
Several organizations select a plant that will be named the "Plant of the Year." In 2009, the nicotiana won that honor.
The flowering tobacco has long been overshadowed by the travels of the well-known smoking tobacco as history traced it from the New World to the rest of the globe. It is believed the plants all found their beginnings in Central and South America, with Brazil being their native habitat. As with its better-known cousin, the flowering tobacco plant was introduced into the United States in the early 1800s, and from there, it spread quickly to England. The English planted the nicotiana along their garden paths so that night strollers would be able to enjoy its unusual bloom time.
Some of the older species only open in the early evening and are prized for their impressive stature and mostly for their beautiful scent. All of the plants that have had the honor of being named a plant of the year must meet the following requirements: easy to grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse and versatile. Nicotiana easily took home the prize that year.
Hybrids require minimal care
When deciding which of the many species you will wish to try in your garden, do remember that the hybrids have been developed to require minimal care. They are self-cleaning, which means you do not have to remove the old flowers before new ones will form. Do remember the plants need to be kept away from pets and children that might want to sample them.
I think this spring, I will cultivate a tobacco crop in my backyard - a flowering nonsmoking type of tobacco crop, that is.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
• Comes in white, red, rose, pink and lavender.
• Florets are trumpet-shaped with five points.
• Provides pleasant scent.
• Leaves have sticky feel.
• Can be as tall as 5 feet.
• Hybrids are 10 to 12 inches tall.
• Is self-cleaning; does not require deadheading.
• Can provide colorful cut flowers.
• Dwarfs can be used as border plants; in containers.
• Can be poisonous to children and pets.
• WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, Victoria
• COST: Free to the public
• Bring your lunch
• TOPIC: "Rainwater Harvesting: Capturing Nature's Bounty," presented by Victoria County Master Gardener Kathy Chilek