The Flowering Tobacco: Nicotiana

Ilona Erwin

Nicotiana For Summer Evening Fragrance

Nicotiana, Flowering Tobacco, is an annual flower that scents the night air and comes in the most delicious colors for a summer garden. I grew it from seed for the first time long ago in my city garden. I had read of its fabled fragrance, and that appealed to me. Trying Nicotiana sylvestris, which grew quite tall and had milky white flowers, and a mix of Nicotiana alata in a subtle range of rose and pink tones, I have grown these flowers every year ever since. Nicotiana is one of my must-have annuals.

Pink Nicotiana

Pink Nicotiana

In the windblown, wide open garden I now have I would not try the very tall types of Nicotiana like the N. sylvestris, but every year I tuck the hybrids in many places around the yard and in the partly shady containers I use them with companions of violas, decorative grasses, and impatiens.

Important Things To Know About Nicotiana

  1. Annuals in Zone 5, killed by frosts
  2. Makes a good container plant
  3. Good for sunny spaces, also tolerant of shade
  4. Once night blooming, now modern hybrids stay open during the day
  5. Deer resistant

The Plant

[The Look] The flower is a five point star of a classic flower icon, but it is at the end of a tube. The colors are usually subtle, but breeders have added lime green, deep velvet crimson, as well as the pinks, whites, and roses. The leaves are a rosette of basal leaves that are sort of floppy and a bit sticky in a light to medium green. Nicotiana has been bred to stay open during the day, and breeding has cost it some of its fragrance. flowering tobacco

The N. sylvestris has darker green foliage, is tall and lanky and has proportionally smaller and narrower flowers in white.

How Nicotiana Is Grown

[Garden Guide]
Usually grown from seed, whether as heirloom varieties or modern hybrids. Commonly available as seedling starts in garden centers.
Good growing practices:

  • Average well drained soil
  • Full to part sun
  • Moisture is needed, or Nicotiana wilts; although it will survive droughts.
  • Sown in mid-spring on soil surface.
  • Give hybrid Nicotiana 6-12 inch centers when planting, tall types 18-30 inch centers

This is a member of the Nightshade, or Solanaceae, family of plants. Although originally growing taller, the modern garden bred Nicotiana is usually about 2 to 3 feet tall, with many selections that are more dwarf-sized. Check the height given on the plant label. Common series of selections are “Avalon”, “Nicki”, “Domino”, and “Sensation”.
View across Cottage Garden

Grown in gardens since the early 1800’s. Resident of historical gardens since that time.

Nicotiana seeds are tiny and need light to germinate

To start seeds indoors, plant about 4-8 weeks before last frost date for your area. Use moist seed starting mix in flats or containers. Always surface sow, just pressing seed into surface. Keep warm or use heat mat and seeds will germinate in a week or so. Keep in sunny, well lighted place and plant out after a period of hardening off when danger of frosts are past.
Annuals Page

Garden Styles


Dusky Rose is a typical color for a Nicotiana alata hybrid.

The old fashioned types are good for Cottage gardens, wild gardens, and in borders. The more modern, shorter plants with bigger blooms are great for container gardening and along paths, at the front of borders and in dooryard gardensgarden ins small spaces near an entry.

Hummingbirds are attracted to Nicotianas.

Have a spot that is less sunny? Nicotianas can bring color.

Moon gardens, night gardens, serenity gardens are all candidates for a stand of white flowering tobacco species.

Nicotiana alata 2'Only the Lonely'Tobacco Flower

Plant Facts

[Fun Facts]

Indian pipe tobacco was the precursor of smoking tobacco of today.

Don’t mistake this traditional form of “Indian tobacco” for Nicotiana species:
The Lenape dried the leaves and blossoms of the indigenous “wild tobacco” plant (Lobelia inflata) and used them as a stimulant and emetic; aka “pukeweed” it would produce unpleasant vomiting. This “Indian tobacco” is not the same plant or family as Nicotiana.

“Where at dusk the dumb white nicotine awakes and utters her fragrance in a garden sleeping.”~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Genus name, Nicotiana, was given by Linnaeus in 1753 to honor Jean Nicot. Nicot, as ambassador to Portugal from 1559-1561, had brought powdered tobacco to France.

Cottage garden

Additional resources

Jasmine Scented

Sensation Mix

Jasmine Scented Aztec

Fragrant Cloud

Growing Annuals
How to plant those flats of annuals
OSU Nicotiana alata

Excellent resource books on Annuals
DiSabato-Aust Well Designed Mixed GardenMichigan's Annuals

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.