Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) is a beautiful ornamental plant that can add color and fragrance to the garden. The plant features fuzzy, sticky foliage and flower stalks decorated with clusters of blooms. Appearing in the summer and fall, the flowers of most varieties open in the late afternoon to evening hours and fill the air with their potent sweet aroma. Flowering tobacco grows fairly quickly and should be planted in the spring after your area's last frost.
|Botanical Name||Nicotiana alata|
|Common Names||Flowering tobacco, jasmine tobacco, sweet tobacco, winged tobacco|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3 to 5 feet tall with a spread of 1 to 2 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Organically rich, moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6.1 to 7.8|
|Bloom Time||Summer through fall|
|Flower Color||Yellow-green, white, pink, red, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11 (usually grown as an annual)|
|Native Area||Southern Brazil, Northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia|
How to Grow Flowering Tobacco
These plants demand warm weather and warm soil to thrive. Cold, wet spring soil can encourage root rot and other diseases. So wait until at least two weeks after your average last frost date to plant, and choose a planting site that gets lots of sun.
The only pruning necessary with flowering tobacco is deadheading (removing the spent flowers), which will stimulate additional flowering. Limit deadheading near the end of the season if you want the plant to self-seed for the following year.
Plant your flowering tobacco in full sun to part shade. At least six hours of sunlight on most days is generally ideal.
Flowering tobacco can tolerate several soil types, as long as there is good drainage. It prefers soil that is rich in organic matter.
This plant likes consistently moist soil, so water whenever the top inch feels dry. Established plants can tolerate drought conditions for short periods.
Temperature and Humidity
Flowering tobacco likes moderate temperatures and isn't overly picky about humidity. It will struggle in extreme heat and succumb to cold temperatures. While it's grown as an annual in most locations (allowed to die after one growing season), it can come back year after year as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. If you live just outside of its hardiness zones and are trying to grow it as a perennial, make sure to cover your plants with mulch before the weather gets cold. In very hot climates, provide your plants with shade from hot afternoon sun.
Flowering tobacco prefers rich soil, which allows it to put on its best show of blooms. Feed immediately after planting with a balanced organic fertilizer. Then, continue to feed monthly throughout the growing season each year, which lasts from early summer until the first frost in the fall.
Propagating Flowering Tobacco
Flowering tobacco is typically propagated from seeds, and it can be allowed simply to self-seed in the garden. If you choose to save seeds, start them in late winter or early spring in small pots filled with a seed-starter mix. Cover with 1/8 inch of soil, and keep the seeds warm until they sprout, which usually takes two to three weeks. Make sure all danger of frost is past before you plant the seedlings outdoors.
Toxicity of Flowering Tobacco
Like all types of tobacco, flowering tobacco includes nicotine, which can be toxic to all animals, including humans. In sufficient amounts, it can cause an elevated heart rate, vomiting, and even coma and death. Although it's not a plant that is often ingested accidentally, except by grazing animals, you should keep pets and children away from it.
Common Pests and Diseases
Flea beetles and tobacco hornworms are the most serious pests of flowering tobacco plants. You can recognize flea beetle damage by the presence of myriad tiny holes in the foliage. Floating row covers (a special material placed over the plants) can protect young plants; established plants are seldom damaged to the extent of plant loss. Moreover, diatomaceous earth can be an effective organic deterrent to flea beetles.
If your flowering tobacco plant seems to have lost half of its foliage overnight, look closely for the tobacco hornworm. The thumb-size green caterpillars sport a barb on their tails. This pest presents a paradox for the gardener: The caterpillars mature into hummingbird moths that you might wish to attract to your flowers. But if the caterpillar damage is bothersome, you can handpick the pests (with gloves) off the plants or apply Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that acts as a natural pesticide.
Furthermore, these plants don't have many serious disease problems, but they are susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus. The disease can cause stunted growth and yellowing of the foliage. Infected plants should be dug up and burned to prevent the virus from spreading.
Varieties of Flowering Tobacco
There are several varieties of flowering tobacco that range in size, coloring, and other attributes. They include:
- 'Lime Green': This plant reaches around 2 feet tall and features lime green, very fragrant flowers.
- 'Nicki Red': This variety grows to about 1.5 feet tall and bears deep red blooms.
- 'Perfume Deep Purple': This variety features rich purple flowers and grows to about 2 feet tall.