MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

August 13, 2008

Gardening: Flowering tobacco plant is easy on the nose

Flowering tobacco, Nicotiana alata, has such a beautifully scented flower that it is often called jasmine tobacco. The old- fashioned variety has the best scent but new hybrids are more compact.

Nicotiana is classified as an herbaceous perennial in the Solanaceae plant family. Its native home is Brazil and Argentina (zone 10 and 11) so it is a summer pleasure in any area with cold winters. Northeast Oklahoma is zone seven.

Each flower produces a seedpod and each plant makes thousands of seeds. It will re-seed itself for next year in the same location, if the conditions favor it and the seedlings are not pulled up during the early spring weeding.

The seedlings are susceptible to being nibbled on by chewing insects such as beetles and tobacco hornworms, but as the plants mature they are less likely to need protection.

Nicotiana comes from a family of plants with poisonous leaves, including potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, etc., so restrain from eating flowering tobacco or the leaves of any of its relatives in the deadly nightshade gang.

Wild tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, is also known as Sacred Tobacco. Grown in Mexico and the United States, rustica was and is used by some native people for ceremonial purposes. Now the plant is cultivated worldwide for its nicotine content. At one time, the Nicotiana leaves were used to make a poison for arrows.

Sharon Owen, owner of Moonshadow Herb Farm, grows ceremonial tobacco for her clients.

Owen said she grows Huichol (N. langsdorfii), an annual that grows to 3 feet tall and has green-yellow flowers.

“Huichol is very potent ceremonial and smoking tobacco,” Owen said. “Another variety I grow is Hopi (N. rustica). It has a very high nicotine content. Huichol is considered to be one of the first plants ever cultivated.”

Owen also said that tobacco needs well-drained soil, even some sand. A heavy feeder, tobacco benefits from a good side dressing of manure.

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