Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

May, 2008

Nicotiana, Flowering Tobacco

by Dr. William C. Welch,
Professor & Landscape Horticulturist, Texas A&M University

Flowering tobacco, Nicotiana
Flowering tobacco at the Welch country home

Nicotianas are tender perennials that overwinter in mild parts of the state and reseed wherever planted. Nicotiana alata, N. sylvestris and certain other species are often planted for their fragrance, which is most apparent in the evening. Both the species forms have white flowers, but colored forms are also popular. Tubular-shaped flowers appear on branched stems during summer in white, rose, red, scarlet, lime green, and mauve.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of dwarf varieties that bloom on short stems. Although the more compact types are very useful for mass color displays, they usually lack the fragrance of the larger-growing, older types. Foliage is large, somewhat coarse and sticky, and resembles commercial tobacco, to which it is related. New plants may be started easily from seed sown directly into the garden or as transplants.

Cuttings will also root, but are rarely used since the seed grows so readily. The fragrant types are sometimes planted near a window where the fragrance can move indoors. A renewal of interest in fragrant plants has brought a new interest in the larger-growing, more fragrant types. They are attractive in border plantings, and the soft colors mix well with other perennials and annuals. Some plants have been perennials even during severe winters in my College Station garden. They survive well during periods of low rainfall but flower best when moisture is more abundant. Insects and diseases have not been a problem. The large leaves are sometimes made unsightly by grasshoppers or caterpillars, but the plants seem to persist. Cutting back old flower stalks, fertilizing, and watering the plants after the first flush of blooms can hasten re-bloom and make plantings much more attractive. Nicotianas can be spectacular when in full bloom and deserve wider use.

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