I tried a new Nicotiana – flowering tobacco- this year. I’ve always grown the tall, night scented varieties Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris and loved the scent but found it hard to find places to put them. They’re tall (frequently four to five feet tall) and have huge leaves and fell over a lot, necessitating staking. But the shorter varieties lacked scent. The seed catalogs might claim that the short, day flowering nicotianas were fragrant, but I have never been impressed. So when I found Nicotiana x sanderae ‘Perfume Deep Purple’, the All-America Selections award winner for 2006, I decided to give it a try.
Said to grow to only 20” tall (mine are only 12”) and almost as wide, this variety is supposed to hold its color in the heat and not need deadheading to keep it blooming. So far, it is holding its color very well- it’s still a nice, deep purple. Mine are just finishing their round of blooms; it remains to be seen if they will send up more spikes. They are nice, compact plants that have had no pests. But their fragrance is light and does not carry; I must get down at their level to detect it.
Nicotianas belong to the Nightshade family, which contains such plants as petunias, salpiglossis, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. They are fairly easy from seed but a bit slow to germinate and then slow to grow from those first few leaves to a plant you can put outside. Plant the seed on the surface of fine potting soil, press down gently, and do not exclude light. Place in a warm spot. Hybrid nicotianas will all germinate about the same time; species like N. alata may have seeds germinating over a span of three weeks.
Do not plant outside until all danger of frost is past. They do best in full sun in average garden soil. While they can take a lot of heat, they do need regular watering. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer while young and then every month. Too much fertilizer, especially those with a higher amount of nitrogen, will result in plants with giant leaves but few flowers.
Because they are members of the nightshade family, two things should be remembered: one, the foliage can be poisonous. While ornamental tobacco plants do not have the high amount of nicotine that smoking tobacco does, it’s still not something you want children and animals to ingest. Two, the plants are susceptible to Tobacco Mosaic Virus. This is a highly contagious disease of nightshade plants and can be transferred by handling an infected plant and then a healthy one, and will transfer to any plant in the family. Because smoking tobacco plants can carry this disease, wash your hands before handling your tomato, pepper, petunia or Nicotiana plants if you’ve been smoking or handling chewing tobacco. Any plant that shows signs of infection- http://erec.ifas.ufl.edu/tomato-scouting-guide/diseases/tobacco-mosaic-virus.shtml for some pictures of the virus on tomato plants- should be pulled up and thrown in the trash.
The verdict on ‘Perfume Deep Purple’? I’ll grow it again next year; I love the color and it looks great with the dark maroon leaves of the ‘New Zealand Purple’ castor plants, but I’ll also be growing my beloved N. alatas or N. sylvestris, too.