Nicotiana

2 08 2009

I photographed this Nicotiana flower a few weeks ago at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. Nicotiana, an annual plant, is a member of the tobacco family. Also known as Tobacco Flower, Flowering Tobacco, Jasmine Tobacco and Ornamental Tobacco, this most-fragrant-at-night plant is native to warm tropical and sub-tropical areas of North and South America. Although this plant is considered an ornamental, it does contain high concentrations of nicotine. The trumpet shaped flowers attract hummingbirds (and ants, as evidenced in the photo below). Nicotiana is easy to grow from seed, begins blooming in early summer, and will rebloom if deadheaded. The five pointed florets bloom in red, white, pink, maroon, rose, yellow and lavender. The plant is poisonous, so keep away from children and pets.

Whenever I think of tobacco (the smoking and chewing kind), I’m reminded of the summer my sister Kelley, and my cousin Deanna and I were paid 5 cents a stick to unstring tobacco leaves for my Uncle Roscoe on his farm in Georgia. The dried tobacco leaves (or ‘backer, as it was called in the south) were strung two across along a stick that was about 3-4 feet long. We were charged with untying the leaves and putting them in piles. The sticks were hung from the rafters in a barn that also housed Roscoe’s beautiful black stallion and a few other horses—most memorable was a slow-moving, spotted Shetland pony named Champ. When we rode horses (never with our parent’s blessings), I inevitably ended up with Champ. His incredibly slow gait thwarted any fantasy I had to look like that model with the wind flowing through her hair as she galloped through a field of daisies on the package of some feminine hygiene product. My sister got to ride a horse aptly named “Shotgun.”

The three of us worked for a few hours (in a hot barn in the Georgia heat) and I remember making barely a couple of dollars for my efforts. I’m not sure what minimum wage was when I was 12 years old, but I’m pretty sure we were paid well under that amount that day! We didn’t care—we just wanted enough to buy Cokes from the vending machine he had outside the riding arena (complete with bleachers for an audience). We thought it was so cool they had their own outdoor coke machine. The soda came out in the cutest little bottles and I think they were just 10 cents each. My cousins were all avid competitive horse riders and had a slew of trophies on display in their living room—so many that one time they gave each of us one (not that we had earned it, but who doesn’t love a shiny trophy?) and they didn’t even miss them!

And while on the subject of Georgia tobacco…there’s an interesting and very detailed account here about “Growing ‘Backer on the Wiregrass Plain.”

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Nicotiana

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