The Flowering Tobaccos – Nicotiana alata and Nicotiana sylvestris are excellent plants for bold effects and massing in the garden.
They are also attractive potted specimens and the flowers for cutting.
Alata flowers stay open after dark, filling the air with a sweet scent in the evening garden. Some describe the scent as a “haunting fragrance.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s first talk about the two flowering tobacco species and a number of hybrid cultivars.
Two Flowering Tobaccos – Nicotiana Sylvestris and Alata
Nicotiana sylvestris (Nik-oh-shee-AY-nuh sil-VESS-triss)
Sylvestris is a herbaceous perennial in the family Solanaceae. The plant hails from Argentina and recommended for USDA hardiness zones 10 to 11.
Typically the plant is grown as an annual, but it is easy to naturalize because these plants easily re-seed themselves.
Nicotiana sylvestris can grow to reach 3 ‘ to 5′ feet high with a spread of 1′ to 2’ feet.
From June until the first frost date, the plant produces copious amounts of deeply fragrant white flowers.
The blossoms, long and tube-shaped open into a “star” earning the common name “White Shooting Star.”
The plant’s genus name honors Jean Nicot a French ambassador to Lisbon in the late 1500s. He introduced the tobacco plant to France.
The species – sylvestris – of this particular flowering tobacco plant means forest loving, growing wild or growing in the woods.
It stands to reason, therefore, that this plant does well in partial shade to full sun settings.
Nicotiana Alata (Nik-oh-shee-AY-nuh a-LAY-tuh)
Alata is also an herbaceous perennial and belongs to the Solanaceae family. This plant is native to Columbia, Uruguay, Paraguay, northern Argentina, and southern Brazil.
Like its cousin, this plant is recommended for USDA hardiness zones 10 – 11 and grows to a height of 3′ to 5 ‘feet tall with a 1′ to 2’ foot spread.
Alata also grows as an annual and naturalizes easily. More interesting annual flowers here.
The plant blooms during the same season as Nicotiana sylvestris, but its blossoms are even showier in shades of white, pink, yellow and green.
The trumpet-shaped flowers are incredibly fragrant and very attractive to butterflies and birds.
The specific name – alata – means winged and so named because elements of its leaves resemble wings. The plant is sometimes referred to as “Winged Tobacco” and the jasmine tobacco.
Hybrid Nicotiana Cultivars
Nicotiana alata is the parent of several interesting dwarf hybrid Nicotiana cultivars including:
* Starship Series
These cultivars have non-fragrant flowers and typically open throughout the daylight hours.
Flowering Tobacco Care and Growing Guide
Size & Growth
Original species grow to reach 3′-5’ high and spaced about a foot apart at planting. Dwarf cultivars may only reach only 8” inches tall and require only 6” inches of space between plants.
Flowering & Fragrance
Flowers appear early in the summer and bloom continuously into the fall, stopping only when the first frost appears. Flowers are typically closed in the morning and open late in the afternoon.
Jasmine Tobacco Leaves And Foliage
Nicotiana sylvestris has large, attractive leaves. They are coarse and spatulate and may grow to be as long as 15” inches.
The leaves of Nicotiana are slightly smaller at about 12″ inches long. At the point where the leaves attach to the stem, you will find winged petioles.
It is from this feature the plant earned the specific name alata (winged). The leaves at the top of the plant are quite a bit smaller than those at the bottom of the plant.
All Nicotiana plants have very sticky leaves. Be careful when mowing nearby, applying mulch or otherwise tossing bits of debris around.
These materials can become stuck to the leaves and are difficult to remove.
Light & Temperature
These tropical plants do well in warm, humid settings. When planting Nicotiana in the garden chose a location in full sun to partial sun protected from harsh winds and chill.
If you live in a very hot area, choose a setting with part shade. These plants tend to suffer from extremes of heat or cold.
If you live in an area were temperatures frequently drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit plants may need to cover your plants.
Nicotiana is very susceptible to freezing. They are also quite sensitive to chilly temperatures and plants may suffer when temperatures drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
Watering & Feeding
Nicotiana plants like to be well-watered and do not like soggy soil. Water deeply, regularly, but do not allow standing water. Use ground watering methods to prevent problems with fungus.
Work high phosphorus fertilizer into the soil before sowing flower seeds and fertilize once a month throughout the growing season.
Once a Nicotiana patch becomes established, start the season with an application of high phosphorus fertilizer annually, and continue fertilizing monthly during the summer.
Soil & Transplanting
These plants do best in a light, rich, airy soil. Work plenty of natural compost into the soil before seeding.
At the end of the growing season, mulch with natural, organic compost to protect and feed the soil through the winter.
If starting seeds indoors, be careful not to set the plants out until after all danger of frost passes. Then, transition the plants carefully to accustom them to cooler outdoor temperatures.
Once established, Nicotiana will re-seed itself year after year.
Grooming & Maintenance
Thin weaker plants, prune as needed and deadhead spent flowers throughout the growing season. Regular thinning and pruning improves air circulation and helps prevent problems with fungal infection.
Deadheading flowers naturally encourage more blossoms. Tall plants may require staking for support.
Flower Gardening Tips: How to Grow Nicotiana
How To Propagate Flowering Tobacco
Nicotiana plant species always grow from seeds. Purchase hybrid cultivars as seedlings from nurseries.
It’s easy to sow Nicotiana seeds directly into the soil as soon as all danger of frost passes. If you want flowers to grow and bloom sooner, start them indoors 6 – 8 weeks early in the season.
Either way, sow the seed lightly and cover with no more than an eighth of an inch of seed starting soil or fine garden soil. The seed should germinate within a couple of weeks.
Flowering Nicotiana Tobacco Pest or Diseases
Be sure to thin out weaker plants to provide plenty of proper ventilation for Nicotiana. They are subject to problems with fungal disease and the tobacco mosaic virus.
When weakened, the plants become attractive to fungus gnats, aphids, beetles and other common garden pests.
If fungal infections and/or pests become a problem treat with an all-purpose fungicide and pesticide such as Neem oil as needed.
All Nicotiana plants are members of the Hemlock family. Therefore, their leaves and flowers are poisonous. Keep them well away from pets and children.
Take care not to accidentally include any of the leaves in cuttings for your summer salads.
Additionally, it is important not to plant Nicotiana near other members of the Hemlock family such as peppers, potatoes, tomatoes or eggplants.
Doing so may cause all of these plants to be more susceptible to viruses that commonly target the Hemlock family.
Suggested Uses For Flowering Tobacco
Flowering tobacco is not intended for smoking, but it does have a great deal of nicotine in the leaves, just like its cousin (Nicotiana tabacum).
Flowering tobacco is excellent for mass plantings and a perfect addition to a night garden because it fills the air with a rich and enjoyable fragrance. Plus they are deer resistant.
Read our PlantCareToday article: Deer Resistant Annuals
Hummingbird, butterfly and general pollinator gardens benefit from the addition of Nicotiana.
They are also an excellent choice near a deck, patio or open window in the summertime.
They perform well in containers, pots and as specimen plants in rock gardens.