Nicotiana refers to a genus of herbs and shrubs of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) indigenous to North and South America, Australia, south west Africa and the South Pacific. Various Nicotiana species, commonly referred to as tobacco plants, are cultivated and grown to produce tobacco. Of all Nicotiana species, Cultivated Tobacco (N. tabacum) is the most widely planted and is grown worldwide for production of tobacco leaf for cigarettes. The genus is named in honor of Jean Nicot, who in 1561 was the first to present tobacco to the French royal court.
Many plants contain nicotine, a powerful neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to insects. However, tobaccos contain a higher concentration of nicotine than most other plants. Tobacco leaves and sometimes stems are commonly used as entheogens and for pleasure. The leaves are processed into forms that can be smoked, chewed, or sniffed.
In many industrialized countries, nicotine is among the most significant addictive substances and a cause for medical concern; see Health effects of tobacco smoking and Smokeless tobacco#Health issues for details. By contrast, in preindustrial societies, tobacco smoking was almost invariably considered a sacred or ritual activity and tightly regulated. Smoking a Native American "peace pipe" would invariably be preceded by paying due homage to the relevant deities and spirits and sacrificing some of the tobacco. Other cultures such as the Aztecs, while smoking tobacco more casually, were nonetheless aware of the fact that it is a potent and addictive drug. See also Religious views on smoking. Native peoples also used tobacco in other ways as an entheogen (e.g. as an additive to ayahuasca), and occasionally in ethnoveterinary medicine, e.g. to rid livestock of parasites.
The word nicotiana (as well as nicotine) was named in honor of Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal, who in 1559 sent it as a medicine to the court of Catherine de Medici. It is most commonly smoked in the form of cigarettes or cigars. Tobacco has been growing on both American continents since about 6000 BC and was used by native cultures by around 3000 BC. Employed as an anthelmintic, it has been smoked, in one form or another, since about 3000 BC. Tobacco has a long history of ceremonial use in Native American culture. It has played an important role in the political, economic, and cultural history of the United States of America.
Tobacco plants were long grown and/or harvested by local peoples. The Takelma for example utilized N. bigelovii, and tobacco was very important to the Aztecs who considered it one of the sacred herbs of Xochipilli, the "Flower Prince" (also known as Macuilxochitl, "Five Flowers"), a deity of agriculture and especially psychoactive plants. Indeed, the origins of Cultivated Tobacco (N. tabacum) are obscure; it is not known from the wild and appears to be a hybrid between Woodland Tobacco (N. sylvestris), N. tomentosiformis and another species (perhaps N. otophora), deliberately selected by humans a long time ago.
In modern tobacco farming, Nicotiana seeds are scattered onto the surface of the soil, as their germination is activated by light. In colonial Virginia, seedbeds were fertilized with wood ash or animal manure (frequently powdered horse manure). Coyote tobacco of the western U.S. requires burned wood to germinate. Seedbeds were then covered with branches to protect the young plants from frost damage. These plants were left to grow until around April. Today, in the United States, unlike other countries, Nicotiana is often fertilized with the mineral apatite in order to partially starve the plant for nitrogen, which changes the taste of the tobacco.
After the plants have reached a certain height, they are transplanted into fields. This was originally done by making a relatively large hole in the tilled earth with a tobacco peg, then placing the small plant in the hole. Various mechanical tobacco planters were invented throughout the late 19th and early 20th century to automate this process, making a hole, fertilizing it, and guiding a plant into the hole with one motion.
Many species of Nicotiana are also grown as ornamental plants. They are popular vespertines, their sweet-smelling flowers opening in the evening to be visited by hawkmoths and other pollinators. Several tobacco plants have been used as model organisms in genetics. Tobacco BY-2 cells, derived from N. tabacum cultivar 'Bright Yellow-2', are among the most important research tools in plant cytology. Tobacco has played a pioneering role in callus culture research and the elucidation of the mechanism by which kinetin works, laying the groundwork for modern agricultural biotechnology.
Despite containing enough nicotine and/or other compounds such as germacrene and anabasine and other piperidine alkaloids (varying between species) to deter most herbivores, a number of such animals have evolved the ability to feed on Nicotiana species without being harmed. Nonetheless, tobacco is unpalatable to many species and therefore some tobacco plants (chiefly Tree Tobacco, N. glauca) have become established as invasive weeds in some places.
In the nineteenth century, young tobacco plantings came under increasing attack from flea beetles (Epitrix cucumeris and/or Epitrix pubescens), causing destruction of half the United States tobacco crop in 1876. In the years afterward, many experiments were attempted and discussed to control the flea beetle. By 1880 it was discovered that replacing the branches with a frame covered by thin fabric would effectively protect plants from the beetle. This practice spread until it became ubiquitous in the 1890s.
US Patent Issued to US Smokeless Tobacco on Sept. 21 for "Nicotiana Kawakamii Smokeless Tobacco" (Connecticut Inventor)
Sep 22, 2010; ALEXANDRIA, Va., Sept. 22 -- United States Patent no. 7,798,153, issued on Sept. 21, was assigned to US Smokeless Tobacco Co....
Exploring Nicotiana Germplasm for PMP-oriented Breeding: Regenerability and Transformability of Nicotiana Species
Apr 01, 2004; P-1001 Because of a pressing demand for the production of more protein pharmaceuticals, there is an increasing interest to use...
Use of transferable Nicotiana tabacum L. Microsatellite markers for investigating genetic diversity in the genus Nicotiana.(Report)
Aug 01, 2008; Abstract: The recent development of microsatellite markers for tobacco, nicotiana tabacum L., may be valuable for genetic...