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Nicotiana alata (Jasmine Tobacco)

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Nicotiana alata (jasmine tobacco) has bigger flowers than some tobaccos do, so you can see right into their innards when they are fully open. You do have to get underneath them to do that, though, since they hang gracefully down from the stem. (Just another good reason for putting them in a container on your porch, where they will be higher up and you will be sitting down.)

They’re great commuter plants: Nicotia alata opens in the evening, so it can greet you on the porch each evening with freshly-opened flowers that spread a light, sweet scent. Some people also recommend planting night-fragrant plants under bedroom windows. Near an outdoor summertime bed would be another good place.

N. alata is one of those rewarding plants that takes almost no energy. And yet it comes back year after year, through hard freezes (to 15 degrees F/-9.5 C) and through summers that go well over 100 degrees F ( 38 C). Jasmine tobacco mostly blooms in early summer for me, with a few scattered blooms here and there through the rest of the season. Other kinds of fragrant night flowers (including other tobaccos) tend to get going later in the season, so N. alata fills a gap.

After years of trying to grow different tobaccos from seed (JL Hudson has an enticing assortment of varieties bred for both smoking and ornament) and failing utterly, I got my jasmine tobacco plant from Select Seeds. It arrived, took off, and is still doing nicely some years hence. I put it in a self-watering container in semi-shade where it seems to be happy without any extra attention from me: I give it the same fertilizing treatment that the whole garden gets, and I water it. Voila tout.

If anyone out there has successfully grown tobacco from seed, or knows of someone who has, I’d be interested to hear. Trying and failing multiple times has given me a new respect for tobacco farmers.

While tobacco gets its share of criticism (I admit I don’t like being shut in smoky rooms myself), it can be useful in the garden as well as pretty. Ornamental tobaccos have pretty much the same set of alkaloids as smoking tobaccos, although as you can see their leaves are nowhere near as dense. Still, you can use them the way the Victorians did, as an all-purpose pesticide (tobacco was the DDT of the Victorian age). Soak the dried leaves in water to make a kind of tea, then spray on plants to kill and repel bugs. (If you have bugs on your tobacco plants, you’re on your own.) Civilized smokers—people who smoke outside—can follow one of the pleasant traditions of the 1930s: smoking near the rose bushes. The tobacco-laden exhalations help the roses keep clear of fungal diseases.

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This picture of the newly-opened blooms shows the greenish tint they have before they mature, also some of the hairiness that I find so appealing in a plant. Maturing, for a tobacco flower, happens in what humans would call a blip: these blooms will last only through the next morning. The following night will bring fresh blooms.

Evening’s also a good time to see the silhouette of the blooms that are coming on and the blooms that are passing away, with the little hairs glowing like a halo around each one. (The little brown-red flower behind it is a California figwort, which I must post about sometime, another great plant.)

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Jasmine tobacco gives sensuous pleasure along with intimations of mortality. I think most sensuous pleasures are sweetened by the scent of approaching death. But few pleasures are so carefree as jasmine tobacco.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • scott bowlan February 15, 2011, 11:34 am

    i have been growing the following tobacco in sunapee,n.h.03782

    Oriental,Indian Tobacco,Black Sea Samsun Turkish,Mountain Tobacco,Virginia Gold,
    Standard Burley Tobacco,Virginia Gold,Golden Seal Special Burley,Tennessee Burley

    The Havana.

    i scatter the seeds on the surface of damp potting soul.

    cover with plastic to hold in moisture.

    allow them to grow one inch or higher then thine them out.

    after a few weeks i pull the duds and transplant only the taller seedlings.

    starting them inside a few months before spring is a good idea and up here its the only way to do it.

    use hydroponics nutrients for fertilizer it works better then any other fertilizers i have tried.

    so it can be done in the north as long as you have room to start them a few months ahead of time.

    and you can get 50 dollars a pound for your air cured tobacco.

    don’t use chemical pesticides,only used organic or make your own with organic dish soap.

  • Berne July 15, 2013, 10:04 am

    I have grown Jas. Nic. for many years successfully in NE WA. st. – save my seeds and start from seed eveery year. No problems starting as there are so many seeds. Start them when I start all my others in a cold frame.
    Basilsnmore at hotmail dot com
    I grow mostly edibles.

  • Prabal Bari January 29, 2015, 7:40 am

    I want to buy this plant. please suggest me how to get it.

  • Bob Beer August 10, 2015, 9:35 pm

    I love N. alata, and grow it every year. Here in Seattle it is hardy most years but in especially hard winters I lose it. I scatter the seed on the top of potting soil and lightly muss the top layer and usually grow under lights. The seed is generally up within a week and you’ll probably want to thin fairly early. I pot them up to 4″ pots when they have several true leaves, then plant out once the weather warms. I’ve planted small plants directly out as well but the head start in pots really seems to help.

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  • cathy anderson July 1, 2016, 11:47 pm

    I am selling them this year in our nursery. If you are interested in buying it we will come up with a way to ship to you. We have purple, Tinkerbell, Grandiflora, Only the Lonely, Antique White, Antique Red, Perfume Red, and Lime bi-color. The lime flower has a tan color on the back of the flower. They’re the most beautiful flowers I have ever grown, other than roses. They are absolutely captivating. Shipping would have to be done with probaby some netting under the plant and pulling the leaves up so they are not damaged. I have some which are not in flower yet which are eaesier to ship but I won’t know what colors they are yet. Some of them are just huge. I grew them from seeds which are about as big as a piece of dust under lights. I would do it again. They’re in demand. These are not some weird hybrid which they removed the scent from. They are tall and scented

  • Barbara July 12, 2016, 3:24 pm

    Very interesting post- thank you! Cathy, where is your nursery? I agree about the flowers beauty and scent too. I love the varieties you grow. Wish our local nurseries would follow suit. I’ve had a hard time growing them on my own.

  • Yasmine August 24, 2016, 9:22 am

    I live in Arlington, VA and purchased a bunch of seeds from Merrifield Garden Center. These were planted out in a container in March, but didn’t really start germinating until May. Now we are almost at the end of August – I have gigantic leaves (a little troubled by a green grasshopper, but I have been using Neem Oil spray to dissuade it).
    However, no flowers yet. From all the photos I have seen online, I think that the plant will grow a tall central stalk from which the flowers will hang – and this does not seem to appear in my plants. So sad….I am worried that there will be no flowers as these plant should have already produced some at this point:(

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