Botanical name: Nicotiana alata
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Origin: S. Brazil
Display period: Summer
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Environment: Sun-part shade
For reasons I can't explain, nicotiana holds a certain fascination for me. The flowers are not the most beautiful in the plant kingdom, and yet the clusters of the star-shaped tubular blossoms hanging gracefully on long stems exert a strong appeal. Their endurance, moreover, seems inexhaustable, blooming despite intense heat from the time buds first develop until frost cuts production down for good. Even then, plants have the last word, re-seeding -- almost to a fault -- in their attempt to live again another day.
There are some who say "nicotiana should be in every garden." The reason has to do with the fragrance of the flowers that so deliciously perfumes the air at night. Not all varieties are sweet-smelling, however. In the newer ones, in particular, the wonderful scent has been sacrificed for the gain of other qualities.
The surprise about flowering tobacco -- and I suppose, the aspect that intrigues me -- is its relation to N. tabacum, the species from which smoking tobacco is produced. Both belong to the same genus. Nicotiana was named, in fact, for Jean Nicot, a French ambassador to Lisbon, who introduced tobacco to the French court in 1560.
The color range in nicotianas includes variations of red and pink, white, purple and lime green. The green hue is a lovely cool shade and it's all the more appreciated because so few garden flowers are composed of that pigment.
Besides offering a long flowering season, the newer nicotianas -- which, incidently, perform as well in pots as they do in a bed -- require no staking, pinching or dead-heading. A single plant needs about 18 inches of growing room to allow for the spread of basal leaves individually to 4 1/2 inches across and the half dozen or so multibranching stems likely to develop.
All parts of nicotiana are poisonous.