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Nicotiana ( ) 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 genus is named in honor of Jean Nicot, who in 1561 was the first to present tobacco to the French royal court. Nicotiana germination is usually 2–5 days in .


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


Tobacco plantation

It is most commonly smoked in the form of cigarettes or cigars.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, 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 Statesmarker.

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.

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 Virginiamarker, 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. 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 Statesmarker, 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 vespertine, 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, a number of such animals have evolve 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:

These are mainly Noctuidae and some Sphingidae.

Selected species

See also



  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. Panter et al. (1990)
  6. ITIS (1999)


  • (1999): Nicotiana. Retrieved 2007-NOV-20.
  • (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)
  • (2001): AFLP analysis of genetic polymorphism and evolutionary relationships among cultivated and wild Nicotiana species. Genome 44(4): 559-571. PDF fulltext

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