Native to Argentina and Bolivia, this woody perennial is naturalized across Central and North America, Australia, New Zealand, the warmer parts of Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. In the Americas and southern Africa, people learned how to make a poultice of this tobacco to treat wounds, skin infections, and ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. The Cahuilla shamans used it to ritually to control rain, increase crops, tell the future, and generally improve the health of the community. The Luiseño used it as fumigant to relieve earaches among other things.
Although Tree Tobacco has a rich medicinal history and continues to be a popular ornamental shrub, all parts of this plant are toxic and a number of deaths are recorded from people ingesting it. Due to its high anabasine content, even drinking a tea made from the flowers can cause death from respiratory paralysis. Unlike its Woodland and Wild Tobacco cousins, this type of tobacco contains little of the nicotine that so characterizes the rest of the family. Instead, its dangerous alkaloid anabasine has historically been used as an insect repellant and is still found in some modern pesticides. (You can make a decoction of the leaves to use as an aphid-repellant spray.)
An essence of the flowers of this Saturn plant has been used to help people stop smoking tobacco or marijuana (how to make a flower essence). Tree tobacco teaches us to know our boundaries, and it reinforces the importance of boundaries by tending to be invasive itself; in warm areas it can crowd out other plants and it thrives in a wide variety of open and disturbed habitats, including roadsides and lakeshores. Hardy to Zones 8 to 12, this fast-growing, semi-evergreen plant will bloom year-round in warm climates. Its tubular flowers are pollinated primarily by hummingbirds. Top
How to grow Nicotiana glauca: Growing to 20ft/6m tall with arching branches, it has blueish green leaves and yellow tubular flowers up to 1.5in/4cm in length. Tree Tobacco likes moist, well-drained soil with full sun or partial shade. Seeds should be surface-sown on fast-draining soil in early spring. They need light to germinate and should be kept evenly moist. After germination, which occurs in 2-3 weeks, thin plants to about 3 feet apart. Direct sowing in spring should lead to a display of lovely, yellow flowers by August.
For earlier blooms, start the tiny seeds inside 8-10 weeks before the last frost. Sprinkle the tiny seeds on wet peat pellets and lightly pat in with the tip of your finger being sure not to sow them too thickly. Use bottom watering and keep evenly moist, but not water-logged. In a greenhouse or a warm windowsill (75-80F) the seeds will germinate in a few weeks and soon form attractive rosettes. Fertilize them with a mix of seaweed/fish emulsion--their leaves quickly yellow if the seedlings get hungry. Harden off the seedlings and transplant outside 3ft/1m apart when the shoots are 6-8in/15-20cm tall and after the danger of frost has passed. Water them regularly in the evening as the plants establish themselves, keeping them well-watered but not soggy, and fertilize every few weeks until they begin to flower. Top
75 seeds $3.75
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