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Nicotiana tabacum L.


Nicotiana tabacum L.




Nicotiana virginica C. Agardh, Nicotiana mexicana Schlecht., Nicotiana pilosa Moc. & Sessé ex Dun.

Vernacular Names

Malaysia Tembakau.
English Tobacco.
Indonesia Tembakau, tabako, bako.
Papua New Guinea Brus.
Philippines Tabaco (General), tabaku (Sulu).
Cambodia Thnam' chuëk.
Laos Ya:, ya: dét.
Thailand Yasup (General), chawua (Khmer-Surin).
Vietnam Thu[oos]c l[as].
French Tabac, tabac commun.

Geographical Distributions

Nicotiana tabacum was domesticated in Central and South America more than 2000 years ago and does not appear to exist anymore in a truly wild state. This amphidiploid species probably evolved from interspecific hybridisation between diploid parents (N. sylvestris Speg. & Comes and N. otophora Griseb. or N. tomentosiformis Goodsp.) occurring naturally in north-western Argentina. When the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Caribbean and Americas towards the end of the 15th Century, they found that tobacco smoking was widespread among the local people. They quickly adopted the habit, initially for medicinal purposes but soon mainly for pleasure and introduced tobacco cultivation throughout the world. The first N. tabacum was planted in Europe around year 1560 and North America (Virginia) in 1612. From the Philippines, it was brought to Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan and India in the early part of the 17th Century. In Europe, pipe smoking became very popular and N. tabacum for this purpose was imported from the Americas: Virginia produced in the south-eastern states of North America and Spanish from the Caribbean islands and South America. However, by the end of the 18th Century this profitable trade had declined due to increase domestic N. tabacum production in Europe. Most of N. tabacum grown in Asia was used locally for chewing and smoking in cheroots or traditional cigarettes. Very little was traded internationally until the development of the cigar tobacco plantation industry in Java and north-eastern Sumatra after 1860.

Cigarette smoking was first introduced into Europe after 1855 by soldiers returning from the Crimean war. The subsequent popularisation of cigarettes on a global scale, particularly after the World War I was an important impulse for the tremendous expansion of the world tobacco production: 2.4 million t in 1925 (Asia 55%, Americas 33%, Europe 10%), 3.8 million t in 1957 (Asia 43%, Americas 37%, Europe 17%) and 5.5 million t in 1980 (Asia 47%, Americas 30%, Europe 23%).


N. tabacum is an annual herb that can reach up to 1-2.5(-3) m tall, with a thick, unbranched (except when topped), erect stem and with well-developed taproot.

The leaves and stem are green (except for white Burley cultivars), covered with multicellular hairs, some glandular and sticky. The leaves are arranged spirally which 20-35 per plant (higher numbers in certain indeterminate cultivars). The number is fairly constant for each cultivar and with no stalk. The blade is ovate-lance-shaped or elliptical, measuring 5-50 cm x 5-25 cm, entire, with slightly undulating margin, decurrent, usually with an auriculate base and pinnately veined.

The flowers are borne in a thyrsoid panicle terminal and up to 150 per inflorescence. The pedicel is 1-2(-2.5) cm long and subtended by a bract. The sepal is cylindric-bell-shaped, measures 1-2.5 cm long and with 5 unequal pointed teeth. The petal is salver-shaped, with a 3.5-5.5 cm long tube with throat inflated, hairy, usually pale pink, rarely white or carmine red, with a 10-15 mm wide limb and acutely 5-lobed to pentagonal. There are 5 stamens that are inserted on the petal tube, with unequal length filaments, small anthers and dehiscing longitudinally. The ovary is superior, 2-locular with a fleshy axile placenta that carries numerous ovules, with a long style, slender, with capitates and 2-lobed stigma.

The fruit is a 2-valved, ellipsoid to ovoid or spherical capsule and measures 1.5-2 cm long. The greater part is enclosed by the sepal. 

The seeds are numerous, 2000-5000 per fruit, ovoid to spherical, very small, measure 0.4-0.6 mm long, with finely reticulate surface and light to dark brown. The seedling is with epigeal germination.

Ecology / Cultivation

N. tabacum is cultivated under a wide range of climatic conditions, from Sweden (60°N) to New Zealand (40°S). It requires a frost-free period of 90-110 days after transplanting and at high latitudes seedlings are therefore raised in glasshouses. The mean temperatures for optimum growth are 21-27°C, with lower and upper limits of 13°C and 37°C. Water requirements are 300-400 mm, evenly distributed during the growing season. Cigarette (e.g. Virginia) tobaccos need a dry period at the end of the season to obtain the required thickness and yellow colour of cured leaves. To produce thin and elastic leaves, wrapper tobacco needs a high humidity (70% at noon) and a reduced sunshine intensity (70% of maximum sunshine). Clouds occurring on rainy days act as a natural filter for the sunlight. The quality of Deli cigar wrapper tobacco is said to be determined in the first place by climatic conditions and only in the second place by soil conditions. To mimic the growing conditions of North Sumatra, cigar wrapper tobacco is now cultivated under shade not only in other parts of Indonesia (Java), but also in Connecticut (the United States). In Central Java, the main area of cigarette tobacco is on the Dieng plateau at about 1000 m elevation, where generally a better quality is produced. Soils most suited to tobacco cultivation are light to medium loams with a good water-retaining capacity and slightly acid reaction (pH 5.0-6.0). The soils must be well drained, since N. tabacum is very sensitive to waterlogging. Cigar-type tobaccos require more fertile soils than Virginia tobacco. Since combustibility is an essential quality component of cigar and cigarette tobacco, chloride content in the soil should be low, preferably not higher than 40 ppm while irrigation water should have chloride content, not exceeding 25 ppm.

Line Drawing / Photograph


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