The tobacco plant, or Nicotiana tabacum, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas and has been cultivated by humans for over 1,400 years. While originally used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, tobacco is now grown, cured and processed for use in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Tobacco plants are members of the Solanaceae plant family, also called nightshades. They are self-pollinating, develop large root structures and grow in bunches or clusters. The tobacco plant usually grows to between three and six feet in height. Though tobacco is harvested yearly, the plant is a perennial.
Location & Season
The life cycle of a tobacco plant would historically have occurred in a subtropical region; however, now the plant has been adapted to thrive in cooler, more temperate areas of the world. In fact, tobacco plant seeds that are re-sown year after year will grow hardier plants that are more suited to local climates. Generally, tobacco plant seeds are sown in the spring (either outside or in a greenhouse), the plants flower in summer and the tobacco is ripe for harvesting at the beginning of autumn.
The seeds of the tobacco plant are incredibly small (an individual seed is only slightly larger than the tip of a pin). For germination, tobacco seeds require warm temperatures of between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as sunlight. They also require soil that is moist, but not overloaded with water (this can uproot and kill germinating seeds). For optimal plant development, seeds should be planted early in the spring, eight to ten weeks before warm temperatures occur.
Tobacco seeds will germinate usually within a week, but some strains can take up to two weeks. Climate permitting, seeds can be germinated directly in the growing soil, but often they are germinated in separate containers and the seedlings transplanted. Tobacco plants are transplantable plants, meaning that like tomato plants (another member of the nightshade family), they can be dug up and replanted without needing soil to be attached to their roots.
Tobacco plants are self-pollinating, which means they can fertilize their own flowers without the help of wind or insects. However, the wind, and to a greater extent insects, can still cause closely situated tobacco plants to cross-pollinate. The roots of the tobacco plant grow rapidly and develop a large underground structure. This structure is comprised of thousands of tiny hair-like feeders that grow near the surface of the soil.
Aside from Nicotania tabacum, there are several other Nicotiana varieties that are generally referred to as wild tobacco plants. Nicotania alata, rustica and sylvestris are all types of wild tobacco and can grow to be between three and five feet tall. They are characterized by tubular flowers that can be pink, red, wine-colored or white.
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