Gardening resources > Life-long learning > Master gardener program > Favorite Plants of Master Gardeners > Woodland tobacco
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Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana sylvestris, woodland tobacco. Click for larger image.Kathy Chapman, a Master Gardener in Ontario County in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, likes to enjoy her garden in the evening after she comes home from work. Several years ago, she started reading about night-blooming plants, some of which were fragrant, too. Since she also likes to propagate plants, she wanted a plant that could be grown easily from seed. Voila . Nicotiana sylvestris or woodland tobacco, an easy-to-grow-annual.

She describes the fragrance of Nicotiana sylvestris as "butter cream candy, jasmine sweet, but not overly sweet." Plants grow about 3 to 4 feet tall, with large, bright green, semi-fuzzy basal leaves that are similar to those of its commercial tobacco cousin.

The tubular, white flowers glow like stars as the sun starts to set. The fragrance seems only to be noticeable at night. As an added attraction, lightning bugs seem to flock to plants after dark.

Kathy has few problems growing Nicotiana sylvestris, although once in a while she sees evidence of trails in the leaves, probably caused by a burrowing insect. She doesn't find that serious enough to worry about. White flies and aphids have been reported to be a problem with this annual, but Kathy has never seen them on her plants, and she has grown them in several different locations.

Woodland tobacco is a member of the Solanaceae family, which is also known to attract Colorado potato beetle and tobacco mosaic virus. But neither have bothered Kathy's plants.

In windy or very sunny spots (especially afternoon sun), plants may wilt during the day. But they quickly recover at night.

Woodland tobacco blends well with other flowers, and with its majestic height, it makes a dramatic impression on any garden. Deadheading the sticky spent flowers, though, is not something Kathy enjoys. It becomes a messy chore to keep new flowers coming along as the season progresses.

Kathy has grown Nicotiana sylvestris now for about 12 years, so she is familiar with it like a member of the family. Some years she has grown it in containers, other years in the ground. She chronicles several recent years in growing Nicotiana sylvestris. The first summer it was glorious. The second summer, she found a jungle of Nicotiana in her garden, since it self-seeds readily.

At the end of the second season, she weeded it out pretty ruthlessly, then continued weeding it out into the spring of the third season. It really is easy to weed out, since its broad, lime-green foliage is easy to distinguish from other plants (desired or weeds). Her intent was to start over with seed and plants that she placed in spots where she intended it to grow. However, last year was the first time in twelve years that the floral guest in her family's garden was missing. She never got around to sowing seeds last year. Oh, well, the space just below her deck awaits a new planting of seedlings this year.

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