Nicotiana is the genus name for over 70 species of tobacco plants. It was named after Jean Nicot, a French ambassador who brought the plant from the Americas and presented it to the French court in the 16th century. Nicotine, which is found in high concentrations in the plants, also derives its name from Mr. Nicot. It is widely grown on plantations to be harvested for smoking and chewing tobacco. Ornamental varieties have been prized for their beauty, color and fragrance since the 19th century.
Tobacco plants grow straight and upright on a central stalk, and some varieties can reach up to 6 feet (1.83 meters) in height. Attractive, large green leaves are topped by trumpet-shaped flowers in several colors such as white, yellow, pink, red, purple and green. Some Nicotiana varieties have flowers that open during the day, while others open in the evening and night time hours. Flowering tobacco attracts hummingbirds as well as several large species of butterflies and moths, making it a favorite in Victorian and wildlife garden settings.
For many gardeners, the most notable and prized feature o Nicotiana is its fragrance. The flowers produce a sweet, strong perfume that carries quite easily on the breeze. It is believed that white flowers produce the strongest scent, and flowering tobacco can often be found in mass plantings beneath windows and around patios. When the flowers open in the evening, the pleasant fragrance permeates through the house if the windows are open.
Nicotiana is a fairly easy plant to grow and is tolerant of a variety of soil types. It grows best in full sun to part shade. Nicotiana prefers moist soil but will tolerate short periods of drought. Plants are suitable for growing in large containers that allow plenty of room for root growth. Flowering tobacco does not tolerate frost, so in colder climates it is generally grown as an annual.
Tobacco is grown from ultra-fine seeds and in warmer climates, the plant is self-seeding. This means the plant will scatter its seeds over the ground, and they do not need to be covered, since they need light to germinate. In cooler climates, seeds can be harvested in the fall and saved for planting the following spring. The high concentration of nicotine makes all parts of the plant poisonous if ingested. Caution should be exercised when planting Nicotiana in areas where children and pets are present.