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Genus Nicotiana (Tobacco plant)

Nicotiana Nicotiana sylvestris Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
nih-koe-shee-AY-nah Common Name: Tobacco plant
The 67 species of Nicotiana hail from Australia, North America, and tropical South America. All have tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers that usually open in the evening and at night, sometimes releasing a potent fragrance. They can be used as specimen or bedding plants, in borders, woodland gardens or containers. Heights range from less than 1 foot to over 10 feet.
Noteworthy characteristics: Long-blooming, attractive plants with trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of green, white, red, and pastels. Some species have attractive foliage. Fairly easy to grow from seed. Contact with the hairy foliage may irritate skin.
Care: Full sun to part shade in fertile, moist soil with good drainage. Stake plants that are not grown in sheltered locations.
Propagation: To get Nicotianas going, you could just scatter seed in early spring, but you won’t get much of a display until August. For earlier blooms, start the minuscule seeds inside 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date at 64°F. Seeds should be surface-sown since they need light to germinate. In 10 days or so, the seeds sprout and soon form attractive little rosettes. Leaves yellow quickly if the seedlings get hungry. Feed with a weekly draught of fish emulsion and water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer, using each at half strength. As the frost-free date nears, gradually acclimate seedlings to life outdoors. By early summer, nicotianas started indoors should be in bloom. Many species self-sow.
Problems: Once up and running, plants are essentially problem-free, though aphids sometimes favor woodland tobacco, and many species are prone to slug attacks in moist, shady sites. Also possible are viruses, stem rot, stalk rot, downy mildew, damping off and root rot, as well as caterpillars, leaf miners and spider mites.

Species, varieties and cultivars for genus Nicotiana

Nicotiana alata and cvs. Nicotiana alata and cvs.
(Jasmine tobacco, Flowering tobacco)
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Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

This short nicotiana bears fragrant, flat, star-like flowers in many colors: crimson, purple, wine, rose, pink, lime green, and white. It is a day-bloomer with uniform size and compact habit. Cultivars vary in height: from 'Domino' (12 inches),  'Nicki' (20 inches), and 'Sensation' (36 inches), up to 'Grandiflora' (48 inches), as well as flower color and foliage. Blooms face upward or horizontally and remain open in full sun.

Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green' Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green'
(Flowering tobacco)
(2 user reviews)

The yellow-green trumpet-shaped flowers of 'Lime Green' flowering tobacco mix well with many other colors in the garden. Growing to 2 or 3 feet tall, this annual's flowers attract hummingbirds and are fragrant at night.

Nicotiana glauca Nicotiana glauca
(Tree tobacco)
(1 user review)
Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Tree tobacco bears fleshy, almost succulent, saucer-sized leaves colored a lovely silvery blue. This tender perennial can be easily grown from seed as an annual and, in a single season, makes the incredible leap from a dust mote of seed to a skyscraping specimen 10 or more feet tall. Plants are a little rangy, but plenty of pinching helps keep tree tobacco at a size suited to a more modest perennial border. The plant bears yellow flowers if given a long enough growing season.

Nicotiana langsdorffii Nicotiana langsdorffii
(1 user review)
Hardiness Zones: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Broad, deep-green leaves nearly a foot long and panicles of flowers the color of a Granny Smith apple make this Nicotiana a great companion for many other garden plants. It looks especially handsome with dark-foliaged trees or shrubs like purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) or ‘Diabolo’ ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’). It is also good with grasses. N. langsdorffii comes into its own as a moderator wherever colors clash. That chameleon-like quality makes this nicotiana’s propensity to self-sow most welcome; no matter where its progeny appear, they look great.

Nicotiana sylvestris Nicotiana sylvestris
(Flowering tobacco)
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This thick-stemmed annual or short-lived perennial reaches 5 to 6 feet tall, forming a large basal rosette of dark green leaves to 36 inches long. Lightly fragrant, long and tubular white flowers dangle in dense clusters from atop the tall stems. This plant starts blooming in late July or August. Flowers close in full sun.