A plant that is known all over the world and is subject to criticism due to the addictions that it causes, tobacco is nevertheless a very pretty decorative plant thanks to its blossoming in spring and summer.
Nicotiana is named after Jean Nicot, French Ambassador to Portugal who sent the plant back to French King François II, in order to cure his migraines. Tabacum is the latinised form of Spanish word “tabaco”, itself derived from Amerindian word used to refer to the leaves, rolled and smoked by Haitians and Cubans, as witnessed by Christopher Columbus upon landing on these islands.
Description and flowering period
This robust herbaceous plant reaches from 0.5 to 1.5 meter high. Its roots are long and fibrous. Its densely ramified stem is sticky and covered in woolly hairs. The leaves are plentiful, large yet fragile. They are pale green, oval or spearheaded in shape and just like the stem: sticky when touched. They release a pungent acrid and intoxicating smell which is due to its defensive volatile alkaloid: nicotine. The flowers, borne on loose panicles, are tubular and have 5 hairy lobes. The tube of the corolla is greenish-white and the lobes are tinged with pink. The fruit is an ovoid capsule containing many small seeds.
It has to be planted in rich, fresh yet well-drained soil in full sun or light-shade. It is mainly suited to Mediterranean climates.
Many varieties are cultivated for their leaves which are used for cigarette production by the tobacco industry.
The plant contains nicotine, a highly toxic alkaloid acting as a natural insecticide. People who harvest tobacco leaves often get “green tobacco sickness” caused by dermal absorption of nicotine. In France, 4000 hectares (+/- 10,000 acres) are devoted to tobacco production under strict scrutiny from the authorities. Scientific studies have repeatedly demonstrated the highly carcinogenic effects of tobacco consumption.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN