#BotanistsLens: Jasmine Tobacco
Nicotiana alata is a nightshade family marvel that is an easy summer backdrop plant for garden beds as well as containers. It can fill up a large space with delicate blooms in deep summer months, lasting well into early fall.
The nightshade family or 'Solanaceae family' consists of close to 100 genera and is found on mostly all continents with its largest distribution being in South America. The most economical species in this family include the common vegetables, potato, tomatoes, eggplants, etc.
“Now there are some genera under the Nightshade family that are poisonous. For eg., Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is poisonous to humans but the birds enjoy it. With this dissemination help, along with creeping, rooting stems, the plant has become a stubbornly noxious weed in much of the United States. It’s a resilient little plant that can grow in denuded soils and low-light corners.” Source
Nightshades, like the name suggests, prefer to grow in shade, and the flowers open at night. Some flowers are extremely fragrant. Nicotiana sylvestris ‘flowering tobacco’ has sweet scented flowers that smell like jasmine especially in the evening to attract the Sphinx moth. “The Nicotiana genus came about in 1753 in recognition of the Frenchman Jean Nicot, ambassador to Portugal, who brought powdered tobacco to France as a cure for migraine headaches“ Source
According to The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms (Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas, Timber Press 2009), "All tobaccos should be considered poisonous to consume (smoking brings its own risks); some have caused fatalities. […] Poisoning through intentional or accidental misuse of nicotine and products containing it is a relatively common occurrence. Related species may contain other toxic alkaloids, chemically similar to nicotine." For this reason, we suggest that you enjoy Nicotiana sylvestris, N. alata, and other ornamental species for their flowers only. Also avoid growing Nicotiana near plants like tomatoes and others in the Solanaceae which are susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus (In fact, don't touch those plants after handling Nicotiana, or smoking tobacco products). Source
One of my favorites of the ornamental Nicotiana group is “Nicotiana alata” lime green, which is an excellent backdrop for geraniums, begonias and other colorful annuals/perennials. The chartreuse green flowers are a great contrast to have in any summer garden. They are an absolute delight to the eyes, extremely fragrant at night and to top it all, the hummingbirds and butterflies cherish them!