Tuesday, April 19, 2011

N is for Nicotiana

Nicotiana Solanaceae (flowering ornamental tobacco) is a beautiful and fragrant annual in this area.  Some compare the fragrance to jasmine.  Planted from sets or seeds, they grow to 8 inches to 5 feet tall and most require full sun and moist well-drained fertile soil.  In other warmer areas, there is a perennial Nicotiana.

The annual bloom time is from summer to frost.  When other flowers are wilting from the heat and humidity of late summer, Nicotiana flourishes.  For the longest bloom time, it is suggested the seeds be started indoors and planted outside after the danger of frost and the soil has warmed.  OR, buy sets from your local nursery or garden center.  They "may" self seed or collect the seeds to start your own next year.      

The flowers are trumpet shaped ending in a star and most hang down a bit.  They come in colors of white, pink, rose, red, lavender, lime green, dusty shades, purples, and a blue tint.  The more white, the more fragrance.   

Aside from the intoxicating fragrance we humans smell from Nicotiana, hummingbirds, butterflies and "spectacular" moths find them irresistible.  They are seldom bothered by deer, disease or pests.

Even though we may think of the Nicotiana as the beautiful and fragrant garden annual (it is), it is still tobacco.  There is rich history and controversy weaved about Nicotiana.

Nicotiana is called the most well know plant of the Americas because of the ritualistic use by every Native American tribe.  They consider it the unifying factor between humans and the spiritual powers.  There are found examples over 10,000 years old.  

The flowers of the original flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) are very fragrant and open at night. During the day, the night flowering varieties might look spindly and the flowers not as showy. Some more recent varieties open all day, but are not always so fragrant. If the fragrance is your main attraction, your better bet is with the white, night-flowering varieties.

Varieties include:  N. alata grandiflora, N. affinis, N. tabacum, N. rustica, N. acuminata, N. glauca, N. Sanderae, N. Bigelovii (Indian Tobacco), N. Suaveolens, N. aromatica, N. sylvestris (old fashioned), N. longiflora, N. wigandioides, N. obtusifolia (Desert Tobacco) and N. noctiflora.  There are new varieties being developed.  N. tabacum is typically just grown for the commercial use of it's leaves for smoking products.  Most are native to the Americas - a few native in the Pacific Ocean islands.  China has become a major supplier of seeds for those who farm the commercial smoking variety. 

A mild fertilizing each blooming month and deadheading the flowers will keep the decorative Nicotiana blooming heavily all summer. 

Nicotiana looks beautiful in a natural or country garden.  They look stunning when planted in masses.  Since the bottom of the plant is usually a single stem, they may be tucked into existing perennial beds without disrupting established roots.  When the tops of the taller varieties get full sized, they tend to lean if not supported.  

If planting the very fragrant variety, plant where you will smell - near porches, paths, and open windows.  These areas will also provide the best view for watching hummingbirds, butterflies and moths.

The white varieties glow in an all-white night or shade garden.     

“A beautiful blossom
is a fleeting thing
It stays for a moment
and then takes wing.”
Albert Richards “Floral Radiographs: The Secret Garden”

Poisonous – All parts of the plants are highly poisonous and contain the toxic pyridine alkaloids nicotine and anabasine.  Smoking tobacco N. tabacum and N. Bigelovii are considered a narcotic.

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