Nicotiana (pronounced:ˌnɪkɵʃiˈeɪnə)[1] is a genus of herbs and shrubs of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) indigenous to North and South America, Australia, south west Africa and the South Pacific. Various Nicotiana species, commonly referred to as tobacco plants, are cultivated and grown to produce tobacco. Of all Nicotiana species, Cultivated Tobacco (N. tabacum) is the most widely planted and is grown worldwide for production of tobacco leaf for cigarettes.


The word nicotiana (as well as nicotine) was named in honor of Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal, who in 1559 sent it as a medicine to the court of Catherine de' Medici.[2]


Tobacco has been growing on both American continents since about 6000 BC and was used by native cultures by around 3000 BC. Employed as an anthelmintic,[3] it has been smoked, in one form or another, since about 3000 BC. Tobacco has a long history of ceremonial use in Native American cultures. It has played an important role in the political, economic, and cultural history of the United States.

Tobacco plants have been grown and/or harvested by local peoples for a long time. The Takelma for example use N. bigelovii, and tobacco is very important to the Aztecs, who consider it one of the sacred herbs of Xochipilli, the "Flower Prince" (also known as Macuilxochitl, "Five Flowers"), a deity of agriculture and especially psychoactive plants. Indeed, the origins of Cultivated Tobacco (N. tabacum) are obscure; it is not known from the wild and appears to be a hybrid between Woodland Tobacco (N. sylvestris), N. tomentosiformis and another species (perhaps N. otophora), deliberately selected by humans a long time ago.[4]

In modern tobacco farming, Nicotiana seeds are scattered onto the surface of the soil, as their germination is activated by light, then covered in cold frames. In colonial Virginia, seedbeds were fertilized with wood ash or animal manure (frequently powdered horse manure). Coyote tobacco of the western U.S. requires burned wood to germinate.[5] Seedbeds were then covered with branches to protect the young plants from frost damage. These plants were left to grow until around April. Today, in the United States, unlike other countries, Nicotiana is often fertilized with the mineral apatite to partially starve the plant for nitrogen, which changes the taste of the tobacco.

After the plants have reached a certain height, they are transplanted into fields. This was originally done by making a relatively large hole in the tilled earth with a tobacco peg, then placing the small plant in the hole. Various mechanical tobacco planters were invented throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries to automate this process, making a hole, fertilizing it, and guiding a plant into the hole with one motion.

Many species of Nicotiana are also grown as ornamental plants. They are popular vespertines, their sweet-smelling flowers opening in the evening to be visited by hawkmoths and other pollinators. Several tobacco plants have been used as model organisms in genetics. Tobacco BY-2 cells, derived from N. tabacum cultivar 'Bright Yellow-2', are among the most important research tools in plant cytology. Tobacco has played a pioneering role in callus culture research and the elucidation of the mechanism by which kinetin works, laying the groundwork for modern agricultural biotechnology.


Despite containing enough nicotine and/or other compounds such as germacrene and anabasine and other piperidine alkaloids (varying between species) to deter most herbivores,[6] a number of such animals have evolved the ability to feed on Nicotiana species without being harmed. Nonetheless, tobacco is unpalatable to many species and therefore some tobacco plants (chiefly Tree Tobacco, N. glauca) have become established as invasive species in some places.

In the nineteenth century, young tobacco plantings came under increasing attack from flea beetles (Epitrix cucumeris and/or Epitrix pubescens), causing destruction of half the United States tobacco crop in 1876. In the years afterward, many experiments were attempted and discussed to control the flea beetle. By 1880 it was discovered that replacing the branches with a frame covered by thin fabric would effectively protect plants from the beetle. This practice spread until it became ubiquitous in the 1890s.

Lepidoptera whose caterpillars feed on Nicotiana include:

  • Dark Sword-grass or Black cutworm, Agrotis ipsilon
  • Turnip Moth, Agrotis segetum
  • Mouse Moth, Amphipyra tragopoginis
  • The Nutmeg, Discestra trifolii
  • Endoclita excrescens
  • Blackburn's Sphinx Moth, Manduca blackburni
  • Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta
  • Cabbage Moth, Mamestra brassicae
  • Angle Shades, Phlogophora meticulosa
  • Setaceous Hebrew Character, Xestia c-nigrum

These are mainly Noctuidae and some Sphingidae.

Selected species

  • Nicotiana acuminata (Graham) Hook., 1829 – Manyflower Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana africana Merxm., 1975
  • Nicotiana alata Link & Otto, 1828 – Winged Tobacco, Jasmine Tobacco, Tanbaku (Persian)[7]
  • Nicotiana attenuata Torr. ex S.Watson, 1871 – Coyote Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana benthamiana Domin, 1929
  • Nicotiana bigelovii (Torr.) S.Watson, 1871
  • Nicotiana clevelandii A.Gray, 1878 – Cleveland's Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana debneyi Domin, 1929
  • Nicotiana × digluta
  • Nicotiana excelsior – Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana exigua Wheeler, 1935
  • Nicotiana forgetiana – Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana glauca Graham, 1828 – Tree Tobacco, Brazilian Tree Tobacco, Shrub Tobacco, Mustard Tree[7]
  • Nicotiana glutinosa – Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana kawakamii Y.Ohashi, 1985
  • Nicotiana knightiana Goodspeed, 1938
  • Nicotiana langsdorffii – Langsdorff's tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana longiflora Cav., 1802 – Longflower Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana obtusifolia M.Martens & Galeotti, 1845 (N. trigonophylla) – Desert Tobacco, Punche, "Tabaquillo"[7]
  • Nicotiana otophora Griseb., 1879
  • Nicotiana paniculata – Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana persica Lindl., 1833
  • Nicotiana plumbagifolia Viv., 1802 – Tex-Mex Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana quadrivalvis Pursh 1814 – Indian Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana repanda Willd. ex Lehm., 1818 – Fiddleleaf Tobacco, Wild Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana rustica L., 1753 – Aztec Tobacco, Mapacho[7]
  • Nicotiana × sanderae – Sander's Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana stocktonii Brandegee, 1899
  • Nicotiana suaveolens – Australian Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana sylvestris – South American Tobacco, Woodland Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana tabacum – Cultivated Tobacco, Common Tobacco (a cultivated hybrid - properly Nicotiana × tabacum)[7]
  • Nicotiana tomentosa – Tobacco[7]
  • Nicotiana tomentosiformis Goodsp., 1933[8]



  1. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  2. Heading: 1550-1575 Tobacco, Europe.
  3. The Merck Index, 12th Ed., page 1119: entry 6611 Nicotine, Merck & Co. 1996
  4. Ren & Timko (2001)
  5. Baldwin, Ian T. (2001-12). "An Ecologically Motivated Analysis of Plant-Herbivore Interactions in Native Tobacco". Plant Physiol 127: 1449–1458. doi:10.1104/pp.010762. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  6. Panter et al. (1990)
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 7.16 7.17 7.18 7.19 7.20 ITIS (1999)
  8. "Subordinate Taxa of Nicotiana L.". TROPICOS. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 


  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (1999): Nicotiana. Retrieved 2007-NOV-20.
  • Panter, K.E.; Keeler, R.F.; Bunch, T.D. & Callan, R.J. (1990): Congenital skeletal malformations and cleft palate induced in goats by ingestion of Lupinus, Conium and Nicotiana species. Toxicon 28(12): 1377-1385. PMID 2089736 (HTML abstract)
  • Ren, Nan & Timko, Michael P. (2001): AFLP analysis of genetic polymorphism and evolutionary relationships among cultivated and wild Nicotiana species. Genome 44(4): 559-571. doi:10.1139/gen-44-4-559 PDF fulltext

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Nicotiana. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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