Nicotiana annual or perennial

Flowering Tobacco

Flowering Tobacco

Flowering tobacco plants have long been prized in cottage gardens and moon gardens for their intense smell. A relative of true tobacco, flowering tobacco plants are grown for their lovely blossoms in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The plants themselves also vary quite a bit in size, from compact varieties fit for containers to large 5- to 10-foot-tall varieties best suited for the back of the border.

genus name
  • Nicotiana
  • Sun
plant type
  • Annual
  • 6 to 12 inches,
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet,
  • 8 to 20 feet
  • 6 inches to 10 feet, depending on variety
flower color
  • Purple,
  • Green,
  • Red,
  • White,
  • Pink,
  • Yellow
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Fall Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
  • 10,
  • 11
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Garden Plans For Flowering Tobacco

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Colorful Combinations

Flowering tobacco plants are wonderful annuals that can add splashes of color all season long. With their starry blooms coming in a wide variety of colors, you’re sure to find one to fit any garden palette. These magnificent plants come not only in a wide variety of colors, but also in so many different sizes.No matter where you need color in a bed, there’s a size for that!

Plants vary from 6 to 10 inches tall as bedding plants to plants perfect for the middle of the border around 2 to 3 feet tall, and even up to 15 feet tall as a specimen plant. Bloom shapes can vary quite a bit. Some are long tubes with a flared star-like opening, while others are small and borne in large quantities that create clouds of bell-shape blooms. Many of the white varieties are wonderfully fragrant at night, emitting a sweet smell similar to jasmine.

Flowering Tobacco Care Must-Knows

Flowering tobacco plants generally have medium-green leaves. In many species, these leaves can be quite large, especially in comparison to the flowers. They are usually very hairy leaves and can actually be sticky to the touch, much like petunia plants. Keep in mind that all tobacco plants are poisonous if ingested, so be careful about planting them around young children and pets.

In well-drained, moist soils, flowering tobacco plants are extremely easy to grow. Give them rich soil, and they will happily put on loads of blooms that will last until frost. Once these plants are established, they can handle some drought, but they prefer fairly consistent moisture. These plants are very heavy feeders, so a slow-release fertilizer is always beneficial.

Flowering tobacco plants do best in full sun, and some varieties are able to perform in part sun. Taller varieties are much more likely to require staking when in more shade.

Because of the toxicity of these plants, they are generally pest free. A few pests, however, have managed to deal with these toxins. You may have problems with tobacco horn worm, a large green caterpillar that eventually becomes the hummingbird moth. These large bugs can quickly defoliate plants almost overnight. Manual removal is the easiest course of action against them. You may also encounter problems with aphids and whiteflies, but in outdoor settings these are usually uncommon.

More Varieties of Flowering Tobacco:

‘Lime Green’ flowering tobacco

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ bears chartreuse star-shape flowers on 2-foot-tall plants. Zones 10-11

Domino flowering tobacco

Nicotiana ‘Domino Series’ bears flowers in shades of red, white, pink, and rose on 14-inch-tall plants.

Jasmine tobacco

Nicotiana alata bears clusters of fragrant greenish-yellow flowers on 5-foot-tall stems. Perennial in Zones 10-11 but usually grown as an annual.

Nicotiana langsdorffii

Nicotiana langsdorffii offers nodding clusters of green flowers on 5-foot-tall stems. Zones 10-11

Nicotiana mutabilis

Nicotiana mutabilis bears trumpet-shape flowers that open white and mature to rich, rose pink on 4-foot-tall plants. Perennial in Zones 9-11, but usually grown as an annual.

‘Nicki Red’ flowering tobacco

Nicotiana ‘Nicki Red’ bears richly fragrant red flowers on 18-inch-tall plants. Zones 10-11

‘Perfume Deep Purple’ flowering tobacco

Nicotiana ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ is an award-winning selection that bears rich purple flowers on 2-foot-tall plants. Zones 10-11

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana sylvestris bears clusters of fragrant white trumpet-shape flowers on plants to 5 feet tall. Perennial in Zones 10-11 but usually grown as an annual.

Plant Flowering Tobacco With:

It’s amazing that the tall, dramatic spider flower is only an annual. Once temperatures warm up, it zooms to 4 feet or more very quickly and produces large balls of flowers with fascinating long seedpods that whirl out. Cut it for vases, but be aware that the flowers shatter easily after a few days. It typically self-seeds prolifically, so you only have to plant it once. Because it develops surprisingly large thorns, it’s best to keep spider flower away from walkways. Plant established seedlings in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Cleome does best in moderately rich, well-drained soil. Be careful about fertilizing or you’ll have extremely tall floppy plants. Group in clusters of 6 or more for best effect.

Dusty miller is a favorite because it looks good with everything. The silvery-white color is a great foil for any type of garden blossom, and the fine-textured foliage creates a beautiful contrast against other green foliage. Dusty miller has also earned its place in the garden because it’s delightfully easy to grow, withstanding heat and drought like a champion.

Just as you’d expect from something called French, these marigolds are the fancy ones. French marigolds tend to be frilly, and some boast a distinctive “crested eye.” They grow roughly 8-12 inches high with a chic, neat growth habit and elegant dark green foliage. They do best in full sun with moist, well-drained soil and will flower all summer long. They may reseed, coming back year after year, in spots where they’re happy.

Nicotiana: Flowering Tobacco

An old-fashioned cottage garden favorite, Nicotianas are carefree plants that will provide color and fragrance all summer long.

Also known as flowering tobacco, the genus Nicotiana consists of more than 60 species, including the plant notorious for producing smoking tobacco. Nicotianas are named after Jean Nicot, a 16th century Ambassador who is credited with introducing tobacco to the French court, where it gained popularity in the form of medicinal snuff. Ornamental Nicotianas aren’t grown for this usage, but for their uniquely beautiful flowers, wonderful fragrance, and graceful appearance in the garden. They are also deer-resistant, and are highly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies! The trumpet-like, star- or bell-shaped flowers bloom throughout the season and come in a range of colors and bi-colors, from pure white to shades of pink, red and purple, and even true green.

Nicotiana alata

Many Nicotianas are fairly tall plants—some topping out at over 8 feet—but their open habit fits nicely in the middle of a mixed border. They also do well in containers, as long as ample space is provided. Some modern hybrids have been bred for very short, compact growth, and can be tucked in anywhere a spot of color is required. Many varieties are highly fragrant, though generally at night, so plant near a window or patio where the sweet scent can be most enjoyed.

Nicotianas are easy to grow, but do best in rich soil in full sun. Amending with organic matter will help improve soil. Although relatively drought-tolerant, Nicotianas do appreciate regular watering, and a few applications of an organic flower fertilizer will keep plants in bloom all season. Most Nicotiana species are true perennials in their native climates, but rarely overwinter in Pacific Northwest gardens. However, they are very easy to start from seed.

Please note that all parts of Nicotiana plants are toxic if ingested, so keep away from nibbling pets or children.

Varieties you’ll find at Portland Nursery include:

Nicotiana alata

Nicotiana alata is the species from which most of the modern hybrids are derived. Graceful and airy, it will grow to a bushy 5′ tall and produce masses of highly scented flowers. The true species has greenish-white flowers, but many cultivars are available in a range of colors.

Nicotiana knightiana

Upright, 3-5′ tall by 2-3′ wide. Long, bare stems hold sprays of small, green and yellow, upward-facing tubular flowers.

Nicotiana langsdorffii

Bushy, 3-6′ tall. Long stems rise above large, bold leaves. Green, pendant-like nodding flowers.

Nicotiana mutabilis

Tall, bushy tender perennial, 4-8′ tall by 3′ wide. Fragrant flowers start out white and fade to shades of pink. Loved by hummingbirds.

Nicotiana sylvestris

4-6′ tall by 2-3′ wide. Masses of tubular, fragrant white flowers hang in clusters. ‘Only the Lonely’ is a popular cultivar.

Nicotiana tabacum

This is the species grown for smoking tobacco, though it is used medicinally by some professional herbalists. 3-6′ tall by 2′ wide, with upward-facing pink and white flowers and large leaves.

Nicotiana ‘Tinkerbell’

3′ tall. Nodding, tubular flowers are a unique shade of dusky rose inside, with lime green backs. They also display unusual azure-colored pollen in the center of the flower.

Nicotiana ‘Domino’ Series

Low-growing hybrids in a range of colors, from white to pink, red, purple, and lime green. 10-12″ tall.

Nicotiana ‘Perfume’ Series

Upward-facing flowers in a lovely mix of colors, 18-24″ tall, with nice evening fragrance.

Nicotiana ‘Whisper’ Series

3-4′ tall. Slightly nodding, evening-scented flowers start pale pink and fade to a deep rose.

Perennial Nicotiana

Not the well known annual bedding “Tobacco Plant” but it’s perennial cousin N.sylvestris. This plant has stout stems with many branches which rise from a basal rosette of dark green leaves. These stems produce short, densely packed panicles of very sweet smelling trumpet-shaped white flowers, up to 9cm(3.5in) long. Ideal for a mixed border or semi-wild garden in partial shade. If planted in full sun the flowers will close during the day, opening in late afternoon/early evening. A dry mulch in winter will protect the plant from harsh weather. Height x spread 1.5m(5ft) x 60cm(24in).

Planting Guide

Preparing the soil before planting allows you to make sure that conditions are right for your plant. To encourage good root growth the soil surrounding the planting hole needs to be good enough to entice the roots out from the planting hole.

Improve the fertility of the soil by incorporating fertilisers such as Fish, Blood & Bone, Growmore or Vitax Q4. Organic matter can be added, J.Arthur Bower’s Mulch & Mix, New Horizon Multi-Purpose Compost or Farmyard Manure will all add bulky organic matter to the garden.

Ideally you should improve a fairly large area around your plant, for larger plants and trees this could be up to 2-3m (6.5-10ft) in diameter.


New Horizon Multi Purpose

  1. Dig your hole deep enough to allow the surface of the rootball to be level with the surrounding soil. The hole needs to be about three times wider than the diameter of the rootball.
  2. If the sides of the hole are compacted, break the soil up with a fork.
  3. Rootgrow can be added to the planting hole at this stage. This is a mycorrhizal fungi which helps the root system grow.
  4. Making sure your plant is well watered, remove it from the pot and gently tease the roots from the rootball.
  5. Place the plant in the centre of the hole.
  6. Refill the hole, carefully making sure that soil goes between the roots eliminating any air pockets.
  7. Gently firm, but do not compact, the soil.


For the first season for smaller plants, and two for larger plants, watering is all important in getting the plant established.

Check regularly that the roots are moist. Light rain in summer does not penetrate down to the roots, and dry windy conditions will lead to water shortages for the plants. Evergreen plants will require checking through winter as they will be loosing water through their foliage.

Try to anticipate water loss rather than waiting for the plant to show signs of stress.


In the borders keep the weeds down by hoeing. Mulching will help in both controlling weeds and grass, but also keeping in the moisture in the soil.

Always follow the manufacturers instructions when using fertilisers.

Seasonally these plants are available in our Hardy Plant Dept. Please ask a member of staff for availability and advice.

Feeding Garden Plants

Rootgrow Mycorrhizal Fungi


Nicotiana, Flowering Tobacco

Nicotiana, or flowering tobacco, is an annual flower related to the tobacco plants of commerce, and bred for its ornamental value.

Annuals Image Gallery


Description: A low rosette of large, flat, velvety leaves supports the tall flowering stems covered with many star-shaped flowers. Flower colors include white, pink, maroon, lavender, green, red, and yellow. The plants can grow up to three feet tall, but dwarf forms are also popular.

How to grow: Nicotiana grows best in fertile, humus-rich, moist, well-drained soil in partial shade or full sun in cooler areas. They are tough plants that will tolerate high temperatures. Transplant to the garden when all danger of frost has passed, spacing 8 to 12 inches apart.

Propagation: Seeds may be sown in place, thinning the seedlings to the right spacing. Otherwise, start the plants indoors six to eight weeks prior to planting out. Seeds germinate in 10 to 20 days at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t cover seeds; they need light to germinate.

Uses: Nicotiana is a plant that can give much-needed height to beds and borders. Group it in clusters for more impact. Avoid planting it in dusty places.

Scientific name: Nicotiana alata grandiflora



Though tobacco is tropical in origin, it is grown throughout the world. Cultivated tobacco (N. tabacum) requires a frost-free period of 100 to 130 days from date of transplanting to maturity in the field. Aztec tobacco (N. rustica), which is grown to some extent in India, Vietnam, and certain Transcaucasian countries, matures more quickly and is more potent than cultivated tobacco.

tobaccoTobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).© LianeM/.com

The prime requisite for successful tobacco culture is a supply of well-developed healthy seedlings that is available at the proper time for transplanting. Soil for a plant bed should be fertile and of good tilth and drainage; it must be protected from chilling winds and exposed to the sun. The soil is usually partially sterilized by burning or using chemicals such as methyl bromide (now illegal in many countries) to control plant diseases, weeds, insect pests, and nematodes. The soil must be finely pulverized and level so that the seed can be lightly covered with soil by rolling or trampling. Uniform distribution of seeds is important. In warm regions of the world, the germinating seedlings are produced outdoors in cold frames covered with thin cotton cloth or a thin mulch, such as chopped grass (used in particular in Zimbabwe), straw, or pine needles. Glass or plastic is used in colder regions, and close attention is given to watering and ventilation. After 8 to 10 weeks the seedlings are 10 to 18 cm (4 to 7 inches) in length and are ready for transplanting in the field. Transplanting machines are used extensively in some areas, but much of the world’s tobacco is planted by hand.

Spacing of plants in the field varies widely according to the type of tobacco. Orinoco strains, used for flue curing, are grown in rows 1.2 metres (4 feet) apart, with plants 50 to 60 cm (20 to 24 inches) apart in the row. Varieties in the Pryor group are grown to produce the dark air-cured and fire-cured types and are often planted in hills 1 metre (3.5 feet) apart. Burley and Maryland strains, used for the production of light air-cured tobaccos, may be planted 81 to 91 cm (32 to 36 inches) apart or closer. Broadleaf and seed-leaf strains, including the Havana seed, Cuban, and Sumatra varieties, are used for the production of cigars; they are grown in rows spaced 1 metre (3 feet) apart, with individual plants placed at a distance of 38 to 68 cm (15 to 27 inches) from each other. The variety grown for production of Perique is spaced the widest, with rows 1.5 metres (5 feet) apart and 91 to 107 cm (36 to 42 inches) between plants. Aromatic tobaccos, also used for cigars, are spaced in rows 38 to 60 cm (15 to 24 inches) apart with 8 to 20 cm (3 to 8 inches) between plants in the row.

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Soil requirements vary widely with the type of tobacco grown, though well-drained soil with good aeration is generally desirable. Flue-cured, Maryland, cigar-binder, and wrapper types of tobacco are produced on sandy and sandy loam soil. Burley, dark air-cured, fire-cured, and cigar-filler types are grown on silt loam and clay loam soils, with clay subsoils. The need for fertilizer is determined by the type of tobacco, soil, and climate; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are commonly applied as necessary to prevent symptoms of nutritional deficiency.

Large-leaf tobaccos are often topped—that is, the terminal growth is removed—when the plant has reached the desired size, usually at or shortly after flowering. The number of leaves remaining varies widely. Dark air-cured and fire-cured tobaccos may have 10 to 16 leaves, while Burley, flue-cured, Maryland, and cigar types may have 16 to 20 leaves. After topping, the suckers, or lateral shoots, are removed to increase leaf development, providing increased yields. The work may be done by hand, in which case it must be repeated regularly, or by application of sucker-suppressing chemicals. Aromatic tobacco culture differs from that of most of the large-leafed tobaccos in that the plants are rarely topped and preferably are grown on soils of low productivity.

Nicotiana Flowering Tobacco – How To Grow Nicotiana Flowers

Growing nicotiana in the ornamental flower bed adds a variety of color and form. Excellent as a bedding plant, smaller cultivars of the nicotiana plant reach only a few inches, while others may grow as tall as 5 feet. Various sizes of the nicotiana flower can be used at the front or back of a border and provide a sweetly fragrant experience on calm days and especially in the evening.

Flowers of nicotiana, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), are tubular shaped and grow moderately to quickly. Too much fertilization when growing nicotiana can lead to excessive growth of the petite plants causing them to get leggy and cease flowering or flop.

Growing the Nicotiana Plant

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 perennials. Plant seeds or seedlings into a sunny or partially shaded area of the garden with well drained soil in late spring

Some species of the nicotiana flower may be short-lived, providing attractive blooms for the early days of summer. Others may bloom until taken by frost. Be prepared to replace the nicotiana plant with a hot weather annual or perennial.

The blooming nicotiana flower is worthwhile as attractive 2 to 4 inch blooms decorate your sunny locations. Borne in clusters on multi-branching stems, the nicotiana flower grows in shade of white, pink, purple and red. There is also the lime-green petaled nicotiana flower of the Saratoga rose cultivar.

Care of the nicotiana plant is basically watering and deadheading spent flowers to encourage the return of more brilliant blooms. While this plant will tolerate some drought, optimum flowering occurs in moist soil.

Cultivars of Nicotiana Plant

67 cultivars of flowering tobacco exist. Foliage of the nicotiana plant can be large, making the plant bushy.

  • The cultivar Alata has leaves which may grow to 10 inches, with up to 4 inch blooms. This is one of the most fragrant of the varieties.
  • Sylvestris may reach a height of 3 to 5 feet with fragrant white flowers.
  • The Merlin series reaches only 9 to 12 inches and is appropriate for use in a front border or as part of a container planting.

Flowering tobacco, NIcotiana sylvestris.

Tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) is a large group of plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). A few species are quite attractive and have been used as garden ornamentals for a long time. N. sylvestris is one such species with large, dramatic leaves and showy, fragrant clusters of pendent white flowers that look like a burst of fireworks. Native to northwestern Argentina, this short lived tender perennial is only hardy to zone 10 (although it may survive further north if protected) and grows so rapidly that it is generally used as an annual.

Flowering tobacco is a nice addition to any annual garden.

In Victorian gardens it was planted along walkways and paths in so that those strolling by could enjoy the fragrance of the flowers, and in modern times it was given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It is also one of the parents of commercial tobacco that is a hybrid of two or three species and only exists in cultivation. Some common names for this herbaceous species include flowering tobacco, night scented tobacco, South American tobacco, and woodland tobacco. The most common cultivar is ‘Only the Lonely’, whose name supposedly refers to it being so tall that it stands out from everything else.

Nicotina sylvestris has large, rough textured leaves.

N. sylvestris grows quickly from seed, attaining a height of 3-5 feet and spreading up to 2 feet across at the base. Wide, oblong leaves to 18” long are produced in a dense basal rosette. In partial shade the leaves are much larger and a deeper green than on plants grown in full sun, which may look almost chartreuse. The rough-textured leaves are covered with glandular hairs that make them feel sticky and may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals. The bright green leaves have clasping or winged petioles, that surround the stem – these are most noticeable on the upper leaves.

In midsummer the plant produces a central flower spike that grows rapidly several feet tall. The leaves along the erect stem decrease in size up the stem. The stems and root systems are strong enough that the plants can lean at severe angles without toppling over or requiring staking, although branches can break at the base in strong storms or under very windy conditions.

Nicotina sylvestris producing a central flower spike (L) and blooming (C and R).

Pendant clusters of pure white to cream, tubular flowers are produced any time from June until the first frost. The main stem may be many-branched, producing multiple loose clusters of flowers. The flowers emit a strong, sweet, jasmine-like scent especially in the evening to attract their sphinx moth pollinators (although they probably are not required as plants exhibit high levels of self-pollination). Each flower has a long tube with a flared, star-shaped end. The flower clusters can be cut to use in fresh flower arrangements.

Clusters of white tubular flowers are produced at the top of the flower spike (L). The pendant flowers (LC) are hairy (RC) and flare at the end into a star-shaped end (R).

Copious amounts of tiny seed are produced from each pollinated flower, held in a rounded capsule surrounded by the persistent calyx. The very small brown seeds are ovoid to kidney shaped. This species self-seeds readily, but the seedlings are easy to identify and pull if unwanted, so volunteers are not a big problem in gardens in cold climates, but it can be problematic in other areas where it can naturalize in open, disturbed areas.

Nicotiana sylvestris produces copious amounts of tiny seed (L) to produce many seedlings (C). Young plant (R).

Nicotiana sylvestris flowering.

Use flowering tobacco in masses at the back of the annual or mixed border as a stunning backdrop for smaller plants, as a tall accent plant, or in a large mixed container. Its bold architectural presence complements almost any garden style from tropical to traditional. It is right at home in the cottage garden, and is a natural for a moon garden. Position the plants where their delightful fragrance can be appreciated in the evening.

Nicotiana sylvestris combines well with many other annuals.

Combine them with other tall, late-summer bloomers such as cleome, cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), Verbena bonariensis, late-blooming shrub roses, and ornamental grasses, or use them to fill in gaps left by spring bulbs or spring blooming perennials that go dormant later on, such as Oriental poppy (Papaver orientalis). Their large leaves provide coarse texture that contrasts well with other plants with small leaves or fine texture.

Plant flowering tobacco where its fragrant flowers can be appreciated.

N. sylvestris grows best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. It thrives in all types of soils with moderate moisture requirements, but prefers rich soils, so amend planting sites generously with compost if possible. It is easily grown from seed, either sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the last average frost or sown directly in the garden after the last frost.

The large leaves of Nicotiana sylvestris provide textural contrast in the garden.

Surface sow the seeds and barely cover, as they need light to germinate. At least 12 hours of light per day is necessary for the seeds to germinate. Germination should occur in 1½-3 weeks. Seedlings should be transplanted into the garden after the last frost. The tiny seedlings can quickly fill a 3-4 square foot area, so give them room.

N. sylvestris ‘Only the Lonely’ with pink begonias.

The tips of the first flower spikes can be pinched out to promote branching and more flower clusters. Deadhead spent flower clusters to encourage more blooms and reduce self-seeding. When growing in windy areas or unsupported by other plants, these tall plants may need staking. If the soil is not particularly rich, fertilize heavily to support their substantial growth. Tobacco has some pests, including aphids and tobacco hornworm, as well as a few diseases, but these generally are not serious.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Despite its use, tobacco plant lovely to look at

Sun | Home & Garden

Maureen Gilmer, Do It Yourself Network — Nov 2nd, 2002

Snow-white flowers of tobacco are most fragrant at dusk and dawn. SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer/DIY

Pilgrims in the New World found corn, turkeys and cranberries. But they also found a plant often called Native Americans’ revenge: tobacco. Not long after Thanksgiving, tobacco addiction made it the major crop of the Virginia Colony.

I never thought of tobacco as a garden plant until a self-professed New Age psychic healer shared a leaf with me. She burned that soft, wrinkled leaf in shamanic ceremonies and even smoked it herself.

My interest is not in the hybridized plant of the cigarette industry, but a true native species. If you explore Native American divination, you’ll find tobacco was among the most commonly used plants.

Oddly enough, women of these tribes were responsible for most of the agriculture, but the cultivation of tobacco was strictly men’s work. Those who cultivated the plants did not often smoke it, because they knew that smoking reduced a man’s strength and endurance, both essential to hunting and war. Only old men and medicine men smoked as much of this potent tobacco as they pleased.

My healer friend inspired me to explore tobacco in my garden one year and it proved easy to grow. I ordered the seed of three different Southwestern varieties of nicotiana rustica from Native Seed/SEARCH, a catalog featuring special plant strains of agricultural tribes of the Southwest and Mexico. I also ordered others from J.L. Hudson Seedsman, including tall, yellow-flowered nicotiana alata and strains of nicotiana tabacum from which come the commercial Burley and Havana cigar tobacco. My friend also donated some unidentified seed.

Tobacco seed is tiny, and like poppy seed, one packet was enough for about 1,500 plants. I treated it like any other tender annual, starting plants indoors early and sowing seed directly into the soil. Plants proved incredibly quick to sprout and grow. Their vigor was surprising in the Northern California climate.

Over the summer, the plants produced different growth habits. The rusticas tend to be bushier, rarely exceeding four feet, and bear yellow flowers. They also contain the highest nicotine levels. The tabacum varieties bloom in white, pink or red. They tend to be taller, with much larger leaves that evolved from agricultural breeding. My alatas grew well over my head, with the most outstanding vigor and frost tolerance.

As with most nightshades, tobacco exhibits the characteristic qualities of long tubular flowers concentrated at the top of the plant. These blossoms attain their greatest beauty at dusk, when fragrance and color draw night-pollinating moths. I grew mine in the vegetable garden where I could compare their qualities at close range.

A mild winter followed and plants burned back by frost survived to sprout again in spring. The real surprise was the thousands of volunteer tobacco seedlings all over the garden. There’s no telling how many were natural hybrids of these different species.

No matter how beautiful the flowering tobaccos are in the garden, they lack the romance of the larger native species. These were held sacred by many tribes and became a cornerstone to their herbal medicine. While tobacco proved beneficial to Native American peoples, it became a problem after we got here.

On the Net: www.nativeseeds. org or

Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and author. E-mail her at [email protected] com. For more information, visit or

The list of flowers I grow from seed changes from year to year, but there are some that are non-negotiable. I must have them. At the top of the list is Nicotiana alata.

Most people are familiar with Nicotiana—common names are flowering tobacco or jasmine tobacco, but this is one of those plants for which I always use the botanical name—in some form. Often they know the short, stocky hybrids commonly sold at nurseries as bedding plants (these hybrids are Nicotiana x sanderae), but alata is a different animal. It’s taller, far more natural looking, free flowering and, often, fragrant.

Although there are several varieties of Nicotiana alata including white, pink and red, my go-to color is lime green (which goes by the handy name ‘Lime Green’). It is a color that ties all other colors in the garden together. Somehow it manages to disappear and at the same time brighten the garden. I can’t explain this phenomenon, but I know that the garden would be worse if it was lacking.

I grow it in mass quantities—probably 24 or more plants—because it is my favorite annual to tuck in empty spaces that can handle a little height (nasturtiums fits this bill when I need something low). Although you can find some nurseries that carry it, the only way I could afford to plant so much of it, is to grow it from seed, and I’m happy to report that it seems easy to grow from seed. In fact the most difficult part is handling the seeds which are nearly microscopic.

Nicotiana alata is well-mannered in my patio bed, where it provides a cool foil for more brightly colored plants.

Try not to overseed when starting. The tip of a toothpick can help pick up tiny seeds if you want to be more precise about it. Just lightly press the seeds into the soil and don’t cover them at all. They need light to germinate. I start them about eight weeks before our last frost date, which is roughly the end of March. They will self-sow in the garden, but only in the most polite manner and if you leave the soil undisturbed.

They grow best in full sun, but plug along fairly well in a bit of shade in my garden. They suffer a little in the heat of summer, although in my zone 5 garden this is more of slowing, than a shutdown. Never fear, they will return to their floriferous nature when the temperature cools slightly.

There is one thing to note when growing them, however. They should not be planted near other members of the nightshade family—tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, to name a few—because it can be susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus, which can be transferred to these vegetables. I’ve never noticed this in my plants, but I don’t plant them near vegetables just to be safe.

Deborah Silver frequently uses Nicotiana alata in her containers. This riot of free-flowing flowers is awe-inspiring. Deborah Silver photo

Put Nicotiana alata in the garden, in containers and any other place you can think of. This happy plant with star-shaped flowers is a lovely companion to anything else the garden.

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