• 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Avalon Appleblossom'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Avalon Mixed'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Avalon Red'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Avalon White'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Perfume Mixed'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Perfume White'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Saratoga Lime'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Saratoga Mix'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  • 2009: Year of the Nicotiana
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Sylvestris'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
  •  Nicotiana 'Tinkerbell'
    Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners.
 
2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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Nicotiana 'Avalon Appleblossom'

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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Nicotiana 'Avalon Mixed'

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Nicotiana 'Avalon Red'

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Nicotiana 'Avalon White'

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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Nicotiana 'Perfume Mixed'

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Nicotiana 'Perfume White'

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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Nicotiana 'Saratoga Lime'

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Nicotiana 'Saratoga Mix'

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

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Nicotiana 'Sylvestris'

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Nicotiana 'Tinkerbell'

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2009: Year of the Nicotiana

Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition...

2009: Year of the Nicotiana

Their beauty is appealing and their fragrance is alluring. Nicotiana (ni-co-she-AA-nah) or flowering tobacco is a lovely heirloom flower gaining recognition among today's gardeners. This ornamental fills the summer garden with large, brightly colored trumpets of star-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Older nicotiana species are valued for their impressive stature and deliciously scented flowers that open in early evening. Newer hybrids offer smaller, more compact plants with abundant flowers that bloom throughout the summer.

History

The story of ornamental flowering tobaccos is overshadowed by the well-documented travels of smoking tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) from the New World to cultures around the globe. The first of the ornamental nicotianas to gain garden popularity was Nicotiana alata. Introduced into garden cultivation in the United States and England in the early 1800's it was prized for its white, highly scented flowers that opened at night. In Victorian times, Nicotiana sylvestris was planted along walkways and paths so that those strolling by could enjoy the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

Noted garden writer of the early 20th century Louise Beebe Wilder describes nicotiana as a "poor figure by day ... but with the coming of the night the long creamy tubes freshen and expand and give forth their rich perfume and we are then glad we have so much of it..." The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote "Where at dusk the dumb white nicotine awakes and utters her fragrance in a garden sleeping."

It appears that nicotiana fell out of favor with many gardeners because the tall plants often needed to be staked or supported to keep them looking nice in the garden. Today there is renewed interest and appreciation of both the heirloom species and modern hybrids as nicotianas find a home in contemporary gardens.

Nomenclature

Ornamental types of nicotiana are commonly called flowering tobacco leading to some confusion since there are many variations in size, color and fragrance between the species and hybrids. Older heirloom species are often identified by their genus and species name.

Its genus name designated by Linnaeus in 1753 recognizes Frenchman Jean Nicot, ambassador to Portugal from 1559-1561 who brought powdered tobacco to France to cure the Queen's son of migraine headaches. Many of the species names refer to a characteristic of the plant. Nicotiana alata gets its species name from the Latin alata, meaning winged, for the winged petioles of the leaves. N. sylvestris, from the Latin sylva, meaning of the forest or woodland possibly refers to its native habitat. N. langsdorffii was named after G. I. Langsdorf, the Russian Consul in Rio de Janeiro who organized an expedition to explore the inner regions of Brazil in the 1820's.

Classification and Varieties

Nicotiana belongs to the large and diverse Solanaceae or Nightshade family, which includes many important edible and ornamental plants. Its closest flower relative is the petunia and it is also related to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. There are over 60 species of nicotianas but only a few are important in the ornamental flower garden. These garden species are native to tropical South America, primarily Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia.

Most species of nicotianas are tall plants reaching up to 5 feet in height, while newer hybrids have been developed to stay around 12 to 18 inches tall making them much more versatile in the garden. Garden nicotianas typically have large, trumpet-shaped blooms that open at the end with a five-pointed, star-shaped flower in shades of red, pink, purple, green and yellow.

Nicotiana alata (synonym N. affinis) is a short-lived perennial most often grown as an annual. The large plants grow up to 5 feet tall and produce tubular white flowers that are profusely fragrant at night. Plants are open and airy and the stems may bend under the weight of the lush flower clusters.

Several garden series of nicotianas have been developed from N. alata that are much more compact and hold their flowers better, but don't have the fragrance of the original species. The semi-dwarf 'Nicki' series is only 16 to 18 inches tall and produces red, white, rose or lime green flowers. In 1979, 'Nicki Red' was the first nicotiana to win an All-America Selections® award and offered gardeners shorter, uniform height and good weather tolerance in addition to flowers that bloomed from spring to fall.

Even shorter is the 'Saratoga' series which features compact plants only 10 to 12 inches tall. 'Saratoga' blooms early, has a light evening scent, and is available in seven different colors and two mixtures including lime green, deep rose, white, pink and a purple bicolor.

The intriguing 'Tinkerbell' (Nicotiana x hybrida) is another ornamental tobacco that appeals to the gardener looking for something very different. The dusky rose petals face outward from long green trumpets for a unique color combination. In the center of each flower is the remarkable blue pollen. The medium sized plants grow to 3 feet and bloom throughout the summer.

Many of the new garden hybrids come from the group Nicotiana x sanderae including the 2006 All-America Selections® Award winning Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple.' The beautiful, 2-inch long, deep purple flowers hold their color well and give off a nice light fragrance in the evening. In addition, plants are easy to maintain for beautiful blooms all summer, even through heat. No pinching, deadheading or pruning is required to keep plants neat and attractive. This medium sized plant reaches about 20 inches tall and up to 18 inches wide. There are other spectacular colors in the 'Perfume' series including a stunning lilac-blue flower and 'Antique Lime' featuring a tan reverse on the back of the star-shaped flower.

The 'Domino' series is an intermediate sized nicotiana available in 13 colors with upward facing flowers in red, white, crimson pink, lime green, and bicolors with white center eyes or colored margins. Plants bloom early, have a nice form and reach a mature height of 12 to 18 inches.

'Avalon Bright Pink' nicotiana won both the 2001 All-America Selections® award and the European Fleuroselect Gold Medal for its attractive bright pastel pink flowers that stand out in the garden. The very dwarf plants reach a mature height of only 10 inches and spread up to 12 inches making them ideal for borders and containers. Among the other colors in the Avalon series are a unique lime green and purple bicolor, as well as a charming white and pink picotee.

The always-popular 'Sensation Mix' is a dependable variety with fragrant flowers in shades of pink, red, and white that stay open all day into the evening. Taller than many of the hybrids, this variety reaches 2.5 to 3 feet tall.

Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) is an annual or short-lived perennial with sticky, large, pale green leaves and thick stems. Plants produce an abundance of nodding, long tubular white trumpet-shaped flowers, sometimes tinged with pink or purple flowers, that open in the evening and release their sweet, exotic scent then close in full sun. 'Only the Lonely' is a popular selection that can grow to 5 feet tall with large leaves almost 12 inches across and spectacular clusters of 4-inch long fragrant, white flowers.

Nicotiana langsdorffii is an unusual annual species that has large leaves up to 10 inches long but its real attraction is the tall stems of nodding, 2-inch long tubular, bell-shaped flowers. The unique apple green flowers with striking blue anthers droop from thin stems at all angles. Unlike many of the other tall species types, these flowers are scentless. It can grow up to 5 feet tall and spread 18 inches.

How to Grow

Nicotiana grows best in full sun in average, well-drained soil but will tolerate light shade. They are easy to start from seed, which is readily available from retail, mail order and Internet seed sources. Many varieties are also available as transplants from lawn and garden retailers.

Nicotiana seed is very tiny so whether you are starting seed indoors or planting directly in the garden, it may help to mix the fine seed with sand before spreading it over the ground. Many of the species will self-seed in the garden to reappear the following year. Hybrid varieties should be replanted each year with fresh seed.

Starting from Seed Indoors

Start seed indoors about 4-8 weeks before the last frost in a flat, tray, or container that has been filled to within 1/4 inch of the top with moistened, sterile seed starting mix. Put 1-2 seeds in each cell or small pot, then press seeds gently into the surface but do not cover seeds, as nicotiana needs light to germinate.

Place in a warm location until seeds begin to germinate about 7-14 days later. A room temperature of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for starting seeds. Species nicotianas may be a little more variable in germination, development and growth, so don't give up if only a few seeds germinate quickly. The other seeds may just take a little longer to start growing.

After seedlings appear, move the container to a bright, sunny window or place under plant lights. The seedlings resemble petunias at first but then develop their own leaf characteristics. When seedlings have a couple sets of leaves, thin to the strongest plant by pinching or cutting excess seedlings at the soil line.

Plant outdoors after all danger of frost in fertile, well-drained soil. Before transplanting the tender seedlings into the garden they need to be hardened-off, allowing them to adjust to the outdoor conditions. Place seedlings outdoors in a shaded or protected location for short periods of time, about 4 hours per day to start. Each day, leave plants outdoors for a couple hours longer and gradually move into brighter light conditions. Check the soil often to make sure it's moist and water if necessary. After 10-14 days plant in the garden.

Direct-Seeding into the Garden

Nicotiana can be planted outdoors after the last frost directly where plants are to grow. Sow seeds on the surface and water in lightly to prevent the tiny seeds from washing or blowing away.

Purchasing Bedding Plants

Most hybrid nicotianas will be sold with flower buds or in bloom in 4- or 6-plant packs while the larger species types may be available as individual plants in 4-inch pots. Select healthy, compact plants with green leaves. Avoid plants that show signs of yellowing which may indicate a problem with the roots or a nutrition problem. Also avoid plants that have a lot of roots growing through the bottom of a plastic container. They will be hard to remove without damaging the root system.

To remove plants from the pack, push up on the bottom of the container; don't pull plants by the stem. Gently loosen the soil around the roots and place in the ground so that the plant is at the same level as in the pack.

Garden Preferences

  • Spacing—The mature size of the plant determines the correct spacing. Allow 6-12 inches between the shorter hybrid nicotianas, 18-30 inches for tall species varieties.
  • Days to Bloom—Newer hybrid varieties begin blooming about 10 weeks after sowing seed, while the species start blooming about 12-14 weeks after planting.
  • Plant Care—Tall plants may need to be staked or supported in windy or open areas. Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris can be overwintered in warm winter areas where temperatures rarely fall below freezing. Roots will resprout the following spring however, they may need a mulch of leaves or hay for protection during the winter months.
  • Newer nicotiana hybrids have been developed to require minimal care. Plants are self-cleaning and do not need to have the old flowers removed for new flowers to form. Hybrid varieties will produce seed but the flowers that are produced the following year will most likely be different than those that bloomed on the original plants.
  • Watering and Fertilizing—Nicotiana grows best with regular watering throughout the growing season. Plants growing in containers will appreciate fertilizing with a balanced water soluble fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Insects and Diseases—Aphids and spider mites like to settle on the sticky glands of the plants. Strong streams of water can be used to dislodge aphids but take care not to break the wiry stems or large leaves. Insecticidal soap can be used to treat more severe infestations. Nicotianas are susceptible to, but not often bothered by viruses such as tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Downy Mildew Peronospora tabaci can be a major threat in some areas and years. Plants that show signs of a virus, yellowed and distorted growth or ringspots on the leaves, should be pulled from the garden and thrown away. Other diseases such as stem and root rots are rarely serious and can be controlled by proper site selection and planting. Newer hybrids of nicotiana are relatively free of insect and disease problems.
  • Special Precautions—As a close relative of smoking tobacco and a member of the nightshade family, nicotiana plants contain nicotine and should be considered poisonous. No part of the plant should be ingested by people or animals.

Garden Uses

Nicotianas are underused in modern gardens. Maybe the wonderful characteristics they bring to the landscape just haven't been widely discovered yet.

Nicotiana species N. alata or N. sylvestris are essential for any gardener desiring evening fragrance. Plant with climbing moonflower (Ipomoea alba, Calonyction alba), four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), angel's trumpet (Datura meteloides), night-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis) and night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis) to create a garden that fills the night air with exotic scents. Or combine these evening scented plants with chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata), heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), 'Old Spice' sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) and pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) for delicious fragrances night and day.

The tall nicotiana species N. alata, N. langsdorffii and N. sylvestris grow well with spider flower (Cleome hassleriana), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), zinnias (Zinnia elegans), old-fashioned climbing or shrub roses (Rosa spp.) and lilies (Lilium spp.) for an informal cottage garden. Along with beautiful colors and scents, the garden will provide plenty of cut flowers to enjoy throughout the summer.

Being green is THE trend today and your garden can be even greener. Plant N. langsdorffii and lime green hybrid nicotianas with 'Envy' zinnia (Zinnia elegans) and bells of Ireland (Mollucella laevis). For a stunning color combination add purple basil such as 'Purple Ruffles' or 'Dark Opal' and silver-leaved sea holly (Eryngium giganteum) or artemesia (Artemesia spp.).

The new hybrid nicotianas offer more compact plants that fit into smaller garden beds and grow well in containers. Their flowers stay open during the day and some even have the enjoyable fragrance that many gardeners have missed in the hybrids. Available in a wide color range hybrid nicotianas will complement any garden design and color pallet. And their easy care is perfect for today's busy lifestyle.

Be sure to plant scented varieties near a window or door so their fragrance can be enjoyed on a warm summer evening. Nicotianas make good cut flowers and the scented varieties can perfume a room. Whether you desire them for their scent, their appealing flowers, or their gift of attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, growing nicotianas is a healthy way to satisfy your flower garden cravings.

For More Information

Please consider our NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information. Click on direct links to their websites by selecting Member Info from the upper left menu on this page, and then click on Complete Member List located at the bottom of the page. Gardeners looking for seed sources, select companies listed as Retail. The National Garden Bureau recognizes Janis Kieft as the author of this fact sheet. We wish to thank the nicotiana experts who reviewed our text. Nick Bellfield-Smith of Floranova Ltd., Bill Wilson of Ball Horticultural Co., Ruud Brinkkemper and Alecia Troy of Goldsmith Seeds, Inc., and Ellen Leue of PanAmerican Seed Co. greatly assisted our efforts to provide accurate information.

This Nicotiana Fact Sheet is provided as a service from the National Garden Bureau. The use of this information is unrestricted. Please credit the National Garden Bureau as the source.

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