Ornamental tobacco grows best in zones 10-11. It is best suited to light soil that is well-drained, moist and rich in organic material, with pH levels between 6.1-7.8 (2). It grows in the full sun or partial shade. The seeds should be sown from February to May and planted 3 feet apart and on the surface of the soil because they need light to germinate. In order to have it bloom earlier, ornamental tobacco should be grown indoors 6-10 weeks before the last frost date. Then, they should be transplanted outside. The plant grows in clumps and has deep-green leaves, up to 3-6 feet tall and 1-3 feet wide. It blooms in the summer from July to September. Water the plant regularly and keep the soil moist. It should be deadheaded regularly to promote the growth of flowers. If the plant grows too tall and starts to sag, then it should be staked. The leaves will yellow if the plant does not get enough nutrients. In order to stop this, they should be fed every week with an emulsion of fish and water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer. The plant self-sows. A pesticide might need to be used because it is prone to being attacked by aphids, spiders, and other pests (1). Ornamental tobacco grows best with spider flowers, foxgloves, zinnias, and lilies. It can also grow well in containers. Flowers stay open during the day. Some varieties provide nectar for giant moths and hummingbirds (3).
It is toxic so it should not be ingested in any form.
Significance to Cultural Communities
Ornamental tobacco is native to Chile and Brazil. It is mainly used for ornamental purposes in gardens. Ornamental tobacco was introduced to the US and England in the early 1800s and was loved for it’s highly scented flowers that were consistently open. In Victorian times, the heirloom flowering plant was grown along walkways so people could enjoy the sweet fragrance. It was also combined with other highly scented flowers to create sensory gardens designed specifically for smells. It is often described as a perfume plant (3).
Noted garden writer of the early 20th century Louise Beebe Wilder describes nicotiana as a "poor figure by day ... but with the coming of the night the long creamy tubes freshen and expand and give forth their rich perfume and we are then glad we have so much of it..."
"Where at dusk the dumb white nicotine awakes and utters her fragrance in a garden sleeping."
- Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (3)
1. Mahr, Susan. “Nicotiana langsdorffii.” University of Wisconsin Master Gardener. May 2, 2013. http://wimastergardener.org/?q=Nicotiana_langsdorffii
2. “PlantFiles: Flowering Tobacco, Nicotiana Nicotiana langsdorfii.” Dave's Garden. Accessed November 11, 2013. http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/1175/#b
3. “2009: The Year of Nicotiana.” National Garden Bureau Inc. http://www.ngb.org/year_of/index.cfm?YOID=27