Nicotiana

(Question)

Are there 2 different kinds of Nicotiana? Last year when I picked one up in the Spring, it had the most wonderful fragrance wafting through my balcony when I sit out there, especially in the evenings. This year, I bought a similar plant, same white trumpet-like blooms, but NO fragrance AT ALL. Why? How can I tell the difference to buy only the fragrant one next year?

(Answer)

Indeed, there are not just two different kinds of Nicotiana, but nearly 70! Like you, I prefer the highly fragrant kinds but also appreciate the beauty of many of the non-fragrant types.

Now, how to tell the difference? Most nursery plant labels will include the word ‘fragrant’ if it applies to the plant. Most plant labels also indicate the full botanical name for the plan, which can also provide a clue.

In general, the highly fragrant types are the tall, white-flowered varieties of Nicotiana alata and Nicotiana sylvestris. Plant breeders have developed some series of Nicotiana alata that are shorter and more colourful, but in doing so, have lost or minimized the lovely scent, so it is important to check that plant label.  For example, many of the hybrid group Nicotiana x sanderae are scented.

2009 was the Year of the Nicotiana and you can find an excellent article about this plant at the National Garden Bureau’s web site here.