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Nicotiana ‘Cranberry Isle’


In the evening, as it opens, it’s one of the sweetest and most gentle scents, a combination of jasmine and orange blossom and gardenia, blended gently with its own mellowing agent. In the morning, it smells faintly of rubber balloon.


I’m a little bit of a sucker for the nicotiana genus, and I also have a weakness for fragrant plants. Add to that that I like carrying on heirloom plants, and you’ll have the sum of why I chose to order ‘Cranberry Isle’, an heirloom flowering tobacco from Select Seeds. I received on of their typically bouncingly healthful plants which has since boomed several sizes larger.

Marilyn Barlow, founder of Select Seeds, was kind enough to answer my email asking for more on the origins of this “new” heirloom introduction (actually, re-introduction). But this plant may be a mystery wrapped inside an enigma surrounded by a riddle, because the only information Ms. Barlow has is that Cranberry Isle came from an old garden in Maine, and was rumored to have come from an actual, land-and-sea Cranberry Isle.

Cranberry Isle is a hybrid of Nicotiana. sanderae and Nicotiana. forgetiana. When I saw this info on a garden list, I wondered at first if N. forgetiana was a joke; background information is often lost and forgotten, especially with heirlooms. So far I haven’t been able to find out how old it is (I haven’t been able to find out where its parents come from, either. Very worrying.).

Until I looked it up, I thought one of the parents might be Nicotiana alata, as the flowers look so much like jasmine tobacco. To my nose’s memory (sounds like a beginner piano piece), the smell of Nicotiana alata is different; more straight-ahead, piercingly sweet, not the gently rounded bouquet Cranberry Isle has.

The backs of my Cranberry Isle’s flowers are rose, while the insides open white (with perhaps the slightest pink tinge; it’s hard to see in the dusk), but by morning have turned pale blush pink. I haven’t gotten the multicolor effect promised in the seed catalogue, but perhaps that’s something that comes with time. Or varies from plant to plant.


While ravaged by earwigs (one of the few bugs that isn’t put off by tobacco’s insecticidal powers), this flowering tobacco gamely kept growing. It started blooming about a month after I’d received it in its tiny mailer pot, and I can expect it to go awhile.  I don’t know how long, because I can’t find that information anywhere. I’ll just have to research the old-fashioned way: wait and see for myself. Or get info from other gardeners who have grown it – maybe that’s you?



{ 7 comments… add one }

  • tina July 30, 2009, 5:59 pm

    It’s lovely. I am very interested in the different varieties of nicotiana. I grow sylvestis here and it actually behaves as a perennial in some spots. I like that this one smells different. Thanks for the source too.

  • lostlandscape(James) July 30, 2009, 6:33 pm

    Pomona, I like how you place your plants in a long historical narrative–or at least try to do it in this intractable case. They’re wonderful plants, but the history adds a rich layer. My encounter with nicotiana are few. I’ve tried to grow some common sixpack hybrids with only limited success many years ago–I think lack of watering didn’t make them happy. Our local canyons have the fairly dramatic tree tobacco, N. glauca that’s become a bit of a pest. But I definitely enjoy the yellow tubes of blooms that are coming into play this time of year all over town.

  • Cyd August 2, 2009, 3:55 pm

    Thats a beautiful color. I love the back of the blossoms. I grow the annual varieties that the stores have in the spring. Sometimes it will reseed itself the next year.

  • susan (garden-chick) August 3, 2009, 4:24 pm

    I’ve never grown nicotiana but would like an evening perfumer for my patio. I have a star jasmine that for some reason I can never smell and a brugmansia, but it blooms so unreliably I can’t count on it. Do you know if there is a nicotiana that doesn’t get too big and gets by on about 5 hrs. of sun a day? I only get a little bit of sun in my yard at this point.

  • Pomona Belvedere August 4, 2009, 12:10 am

    All of the nicotianas I’ve grown (Cranberry Isle makes my third) flower in 5 hours of sun or less. They kind of have to. So far, CI seems pretty compact; I have it in a container which may help. N. alata has a nice scent (I did a post on it; you can search “Nicotiana alata” on this site, and of course there’s sure to be good info on it elsewhere).

    You know honestly, star jasmine just has never been that scented for me, either; I prefer the real jasmines to Trachelospermum. Jasmine polyanthum (-us?) was hardy for me in zone 8 and, once established, ran rampant and bloomed like crazy (we’re still talking semi-shade). But I made the mistake of digging it up, and it perished.

  • wayne August 5, 2009, 8:43 am

    yet another plant I knew very little about. I wish you good luck.

  • Graeme Standen December 26, 2017, 7:06 am

    Hi. Interesting post. N. x sanderae itself originated as a hybrid, of N. alata with the related N. forgetiana, both of which hail from Brazil and/or elsewhere in South America (you can obtain seed of N. forgetiana from the wonderful Brazil Plants website of Mauro Peixito). I guess nowadays N. x sanderae has taken on a life of its own, having been selected and grown by commercial seed houses and in flower gardens since its origins in the nineteenth century.

    This strain, therefore, appears to be a “backcross” of a hybrid to one of its parents.

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