Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Nicotiana tabacum
(tobacco)

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Datasheet

Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 21 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Nicotiana tabacum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • tobacco
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • N. tabacum is listed in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012) as an “agricultural weed, casual alien, cultivation escape, environment...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowering habit. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
TitleFlowering habit
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowering habit. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowering habit. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
Flowering habitNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowering habit. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005.
TitleHabit
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2005 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005.
HabitNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005.©Forest & Kim Starr-2005 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, with red-footed booby (Sula sula) nesting amongst the infestation. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
TitleHabit
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, with red-footed booby (Sula sula) nesting amongst the infestation. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, with red-footed booby (Sula sula) nesting amongst the infestation. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
HabitNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, with red-footed booby (Sula sula) nesting amongst the infestation. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); leaves. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
TitleLeaves
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); leaves. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); leaves. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
LeavesNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); leaves. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
TitleFlowers
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.
FlowersNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. Kahakuloa, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2008.©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); close-up of flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
TitleFlowers
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); close-up of flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); close-up of flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
FlowersNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); close-up of flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
TitleFlowers
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
FlowersNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); flowers. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); developing and ripened seed capsules. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
TitleSeed capsules
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); developing and ripened seed capsules. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); developing and ripened seed capsules. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.
Seed capsulesNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); developing and ripened seed capsules. NW Lake, Laysan, Hawaii, USA. September, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); dry seed capsules. Mokolea Pt., Kilauea Pt. NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
TitleSeed capsules
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); dry seed capsules. Mokolea Pt., Kilauea Pt. NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); dry seed capsules. Mokolea Pt., Kilauea Pt. NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
Seed capsulesNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); dry seed capsules. Mokolea Pt., Kilauea Pt. NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); seedling. Mokolea Pt, Kilauea Pt NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
TitleSeedling
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); seedling. Mokolea Pt, Kilauea Pt NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); seedling. Mokolea Pt, Kilauea Pt NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.
SeedlingNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); seedling. Mokolea Pt, Kilauea Pt NWR, Kauai, Hawaii, USA. March, 2013.©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, young plants growing around base of tree. Waihee Coastal Preserve, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2012.
TitleYoung plants
CaptionNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, young plants growing around base of tree. Waihee Coastal Preserve, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, young plants growing around base of tree. Waihee Coastal Preserve, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2012.
Young plantsNicotiana tabacum (tobacco); habit, young plants growing around base of tree. Waihee Coastal Preserve, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Nicotiana tabacum L.

Preferred Common Name

  • tobacco

International Common Names

  • English: Virginian tobacco
  • Spanish: tabaco
  • French: tabac; tabac comun; tabac de Virginie
  • Chinese: yan cao
  • Portuguese: tabaco comum

Local Common Names

  • Bolivia: acará; coss; pairr
  • Dominican Republic: herbe à la reine; tabac macaque; tabac mannoque
  • Fiji: tavako; tavako ni Viti; topako
  • French Polynesia/Marquesas: maimai hava au
  • Germany: Virginischer Tabak
  • Guam: chupa
  • India: duma; poga
  • Italy: tabacco
  • Myanmar: say-ywet-gyi
  • Netherlands: tabak
  • Palau: dekool
  • Philippines: tabako
  • Samoa: tapaa
  • Sweden: tobak

EPPO code

  • NIOTA (Nicotiana tabacum)

Summary of Invasiveness

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N. tabacum is listed in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012) as an “agricultural weed, casual alien, cultivation escape, environmental weed, garden thug, naturalised, noxious weed, sleeper weed, and weed”. For several hundred years it has been widely cultivated beyond its native range to produce the economically important crop tobacco, but has escaped from cultivation and naturalized in many non-native regions (Pammel, 1911, Randall, 2012). It is known to be invasive in Cuba, Asia, and parts of the Pacific (Oviedo-Prieto et al, 2012; PIER, 2014). High-risk traits include its self-compatibility, tolerance of broad climate range and soil conditions, toxicity to animals and humans, and ability to reproduce prolifically by producing numerous tiny, grainlike, viable seeds (PIER, 2014).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Solanales
  •                         Family: Solanaceae
  •                             Genus: Nicotiana
  •                                 Species: Nicotiana tabacum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Solanaceae, the Nightshade family, consists of 90 genera and 3000-4000 species with great variation in habit and distribution on all continents except Antarctica, with the majority of species diversity in Central and South America (PBI Solanum Project, 2014). This family includes some of the world’s most important crop plant species, including potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as some of the world’s deadliest plant species, including belladonna, jimsonweed, oleander, satans-apple, and henbane.

The genus Nicotiana is said to be named for John Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal, who sent some species to Catherine de Medici c. 1560 which popularized the plant in Europe for both social and medicinal uses (Laws, 2010). Among the numerous species of Nicotiana, only N. tabacum and N. rustica (both 2n = 48) are of economic interest. Wild tobaccos (N. attenuata and N. trigonophylla ) are upright, leafy evergreen plants found in sandy, arid regions of the western USA. N. rustica is native to Mexico and Texas, USA, and is an amphidiploid originating from natural hybridization between N. undulata and N. paniculata. N. rustica is preferred for hookah smoking (water pipes), chewing and sniffing.

Cultivated N. tabacum originated from a natural cross between N. sylvestris and N. otophora. The sterile hybrid, on chromosome duplication, gave rise to the cultivated crop, although N. tomentosiformis has also been suggested as one of the progenitors. The crop can be broadly divided according to the method of curing the leaves: flue, fire, air or sun-cured. In general, the dark-coloured air and fire-cured tobacco is used for pipe and cigar tobacco, whereas the light-coloured flue and sun-cured is used for cigarette tobacco.

The species name tabacum derives from the American name for the plant, and Candolle (1885) writes that the vernacular names in introduced regions including China, Japan, the Philippines, Java, India, and Iran are mostly variations of American names, confirming the neotropical origin of the species.

Common names include ‘Sacra herba’ (sacred herb), owing to its perceived medicinal values, and ‘henbane of Peru’, confirming its native origins in South America and its perceived similarities to henbane, fellow Solanaceae family member Hyoscyamusniger.

Description

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Erect, stout annual or short lived perennial herbs, reaching a height of 1.5-2 m; stems sparsely branched, viscid pubescent with abundant glandular hairs. Leaves green, simple, alternate, often large, coarse, elliptic to ovate or obovate, up to 50 cm long, usually decreasing in size up the stem, glandular pubescent, margins entire or undulate, apex acute to acuminate, base decurrent, amplexicaul, lower leaves with winged petioles, upper leaves subsessile. Flowers in short, dense panicles, pedicels 5-15 mm long; calyx tubular, 12-20 mm long, the tube 10-15 mm long, the lobes narrowly triangular, acute, sometimes unequal, shorter than calyx tube; corolla salverform, the limb white, pink, or reddish, 5 lobed to pentagonal, 30-50 mm in diameter, the tube proper shorter and narrower than throat cylinder, 4-5 cm long, throat cup distinct; stamens unequal, the upper four long, the fifth shorter, all inserted near the base of corolla tube and adnate to it for ca. 1 cm; filaments 2.5-4 cm long, pubescent at base.

Capsules ellipsoid to ovoid, equalling or exceeding calyx, 1.5-2.5 cm long. Seeds numerous, ca. 0.5 mm long, globose to oblong, testa wavy reticulate. [Wagner et al., 2014]

N. rustica is a much smaller plant, about 0.6-1.2 m in height, which usually develops suckers (lateral shoots). Leaves are short, but thick, broadly oval and petiolate with an uneven, puckered surface. Flowers are pale yellow to green.

Plant Type

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Annual
Herbaceous
Seed propagated

Distribution

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N. tabacum is considered of American origin and has been widely introduced for cultivation to the rest of the world. It is well represented in the West Indies, Mesoamerica, and South America, as well as in the Pacific Islands. It is also cultivated, and has often escaped from cultivation, in Asia and Europe. 

The wide use of tobacco of a crop means that the Distribution Table does not fully reflect the list of countries where this plant is grown commercially: Eriksen et al. (2015) report that tobacco leaf is grown in at least 124 countries, with an expansion of farming in Africa where over 20 countries now grow tobacco.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 19 Jun 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

MaliPresent
TunisiaPresentIntroducedNorth and northwest Tunisia
ZimbabwePresent

Asia

ChinaPresent, WidespreadIntroducedWidely cultivated all over the country
-AnhuiPresent
-FujianPresent
-GuangdongPresent
-GuangxiPresent
-GuizhouPresent
-HenanPresent
-ShandongPresent
-SichuanPresent
-YunnanPresent
IndiaPresent, WidespreadIntroducedPossibly introduced from Europe. Now cultivated throughout India; First reported: By 1605
-KarnatakaPresent
-OdishaPresent
-PunjabPresent
-Tamil NaduPresent
-Uttar PradeshPresent
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-JavaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced
IranPresent
IsraelPresent
JapanPresentIntroducedInvasiveBonin (Ogasawara) Is., Minami Tori Shima I.
MyanmarPresent
PakistanPresentIntroducedSometimes found as an escapee
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced
South KoreaPresent
SyriaPresent
TurkeyPresentIntroducedIntroduced at the start of the seventeenth century (Candolle, 1885); First reported: Early 1600s

Europe

AlbaniaPresent
AustriaPresentIntroducedCultivation escape, casual alien
DenmarkPresentIntroducedCultivation escape
FinlandPresentIntroducedCultivation escape
FrancePresent
GermanyPresent
GreecePresent
HungaryPresentIntroducedInvasive
ItalyPresent
North MacedoniaPresent
PortugalPresentIntroducedIntroduced by Spaniards to Europe shortly after discovery of the Americas; seen by Nicot in Portugal; First reported: By 1560
RussiaPresentIntroduced
SerbiaPresent
SpainPresentIntroducedAndalucia
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized
SwedenPresentIntroduced
United KingdomPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized, casual alien

North America

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedAntigua, Barbuda, Redonda Is.
BahamasPresentIntroduced
BarbadosPresentIntroduced
BelizePresent
BermudaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced
CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-OntarioPresentIntroduced
-QuebecPresent
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced
Costa RicaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced
CubaPresentIntroduced
DominicaPresentIntroduced
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
GuadeloupePresentIntroduced
GuatemalaPresent
HaitiPresentIntroduced
HondurasPresent
JamaicaPresentIntroduced
MartiniquePresentIntroduced
MexicoPresentChiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo
MontserratPresentIntroduced
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedSt. Barthelemy
NicaraguaPresentIntroduced‘rarely escaping’ from cultivation; Pacific and northcentral parts of the country
PanamaPresentIntroduced'only sparingly spontaneous in Panama’
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroduced
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced
United StatesPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced
-ConnecticutPresentIntroduced
-FloridaPresentIntroduced
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced1612
-HawaiiPresentIntroducedInvasiveNaturalized on Laysan, Ni`ihau, Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Maui, Kaho`olawe, Hawai`i
-KansasPresentIntroduced
-LouisianaPresentIntroduced
-MarylandPresentIntroduced
-MassachusettsPresentIntroduced
-MissouriPresentIntroducedNear St.. Louis
-New JerseyPresentIntroduced
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced
-OhioPresentIntroduced
-PennsylvaniaPresentIntroduced
-South CarolinaPresentIntroduced
-TexasPresentIntroduced
-VirginiaPresentIntroduced

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Lord Howe IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced
Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroduced
FijiPresentIntroducedInvasive
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized on Marquesas Islands of Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Ua Pou, Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Fatu Hiva
GuamPresentIntroduced
KiribatiPresentIntroduced
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced
NauruPresentIntroduced
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedInvasive
New ZealandPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Kermadec IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
NiuePresentIntroduced
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced
PalauPresentIntroduced
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced
PitcairnPresentIntroducedInvasive
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced
TongaPresentIntroduced
United States Minor Outlying Islands
-Wake IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
Wallis and FutunaPresentIntroduced

South America

ArgentinaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationCultivated, perhaps escaping
BoliviaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized. La Paz, Beni, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba; Original citation: Bolivia Checklist (2014)
BrazilPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous. Distrito Federal, Amazônia, Caatinga, Cerrado, Mata Atlântica.
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-BahiaPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-GoiasPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-ParaPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-ParanaPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedSubspontaneous
ChilePresentIntroducedInvasiveIsla Mas a Tierra
ColombiaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationMunicipios Bello, Copacabana, Fredonia, Medellín
EcuadorPresentIntroducedBolívar, Chimborazo, Galapagos, Guayas, Imbabura, Loja, Manabí, Napo, Pichincha, Sucumbíos, Tungurahua
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
French GuianaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationCultivated, perhaps escaping
GuyanaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationCultivated, perhaps escaping
ParaguayPresentIntroducedIntroduced by Spaniards shortly after discovery of the Americas; First reported: 1600s
PeruPresentNativeDeptos. Amazonas, Cajamarca, Cuzco, Huánuco, Loreto, Piura, San Martín
SurinamePresent, Only in captivity/cultivationCultivated, perhaps escaping
UruguayPresentIntroducedIntroduced in La Plata by Spaniards shortly after discovery of the Americas; First reported: 1600s
VenezuelaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivation‘cultivated, perhaps escaping’. Amazonas , Bolivar, Delta Amacuro

History of Introduction and Spread

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N. tabacum is considered native to South and Central America, perhaps as far north as Mexico, and had already been in wide use across the New World by the time the Spanish discovered the Americas (Candolle, 1885). Some historians have concluded that the plant was originally chewed or taken as snuff in South America, and it was the Europeans who began the practice of smoking it, although in North America, apparently from Mexico north to California and Canada, the Aztecs and native Americans had an ancient history of smoking the plant (Candolle, 1885). The first reports of dried leaves being smoked come from scouts sent by Christopher Columbus into the interior of Cuba.

It has been suggested that no form of tobacco had been present in pre-Columbian Paraguay or La Plata district, Uruguay; rather, N. tabacum was introduced here by the Spaniards (Candolle, 1885). The species is not native to Brazil (Candolle, 1885; Forzza et al, 2010), but other Nicotiana species endemic to Brazil were used in the same fashion.

N. tabacum was introduced from the Americas to Europe by the Spaniards shortly after the discovery of America (Pammel, 1911), perhaps as early as 1518 (Alvina and Madulid, 2009), and was certainly observed growing in Portugal by 1560 (Candolle, 1885). Some accounts credit Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, as introducing the plant to France, where it was originally grown as an ornamental and medicinal plant.

Historical evidence suggests the species was introduced from Europe to the Middle East at the beginning of the 17th century. The first written record of its use in Persia [now Iran] was in 1626, though it was apparently present in India by 1605, perhaps by European introduction as well (Candolle, 1885). The species soon became widely cultivated across the region as a high-demand cultural commodity, especially for use in the hookah.

Introduction of the species to Asia is somewhat uncertain, but repeated introductions may have occurred by various European explorers who brought seeds with them. The species was certainly introduced by way of the 1565-1815 Spanish Manila-Acapulco galleon trade route between Mexico and the Philippines (Alvina and Madulid, 2009) in order to establish tobacco plantations in the Spanish colony. The Portuguese may have introduced the species to their Asian colonies in the late 16th century; it was reportedly spread to Japan by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 17th century (Candolle, 1885). The species’ introduction to China was not before 1700 and could have easily been through the frequent communications between Chinese traders and Manila-based Spaniards and Filipinos, or direct encounters with European explorers.

Tobacco has been known to be present in the Americas since Columbus recorded observations of Amerindians smoking it in his journal in 1492 (MacInnes, 1926), but the precise origin of N. tabacum is unclear. MacInnes (1926) wrote that some early descriptions of tobacco including from the 17th century refer to another species, N. rustica. In the early-to-mid 16th century Fernandez de Oviedo, Las Casas and Benzoni each wrote descriptions of the use of tobacco by natives of the Neotropics, referring to either N. tabacum or N. rustica, and Nicholas Culpepper reported the species to be a native of the ‘West Indies’ in 1653 (MacInnes, 1926; Laws, 2010). John Rolfe first cultivated tobacco in Jamestown, Virginia in 1612, and by 1620 it was being commercially grown and exported from Virginia and other American colonies to Europe (Laws, 2010).

Risk of Introduction

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Risk of introduction for this species is high. In a risk assessment prepared for Hawaii, N. tabacum received a score of 9 (score over 6 = likely to be a pest; reject the species for import), indicating its potential threat to native ecosystems (PIER, 2014). Its invasive traits include widespread distribution beyond its native range; its self-compatibility; tolerance of a broad climate range and soil conditions; known toxicity to animals and humans; and ability to reproduce prolifically by producing numerous tiny, grainlike, viable seeds (Randall, 2012; PFAF, 2014; PIER, 2014). The species is known to be invasive to Cuba (Oviedo-Prieto et al., 2012) and many parts of the Pacific including Hawaii, Australia, Galapagos Islands, Fiji, the Society, Austral and Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, Japan, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and the Pitcairn Islands (PIER, 2014). It is known to have escaped from cultivation in European countries including Finland, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, and Lithuania (Randall, 2012). It is related to Nicotiana glauca, a vigorously invasive plant species that is known to outcompete native flora by forming monospecific stands and preventing natural regeneration and shading out its competitors with its large leaves (Weber, 2003). Given these traits and its known invasiveness, this species poses a high risk of introduction and further research and control measures should be investigated.

Habitat

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N. tabacum has been reportedly grown in a wide range of habitats including forests, plains, mountains, wetlands, savannahs, dry valleys, and apparently even on a volcano. In North America, the species occurs in the uplands of the following regions: arid west, Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, eastern mountains and piedmont, the Great Plains, and Northcentral, and northeast, while in Hawaii and parts of the Midwest, the species has been known to occur in some wetland habitats, although it usually occurs in non-wetlands (USDA-NRCS, 2014). In Antioquia, Colombia the species occurs in premontane forests (Vascular Plants of Antioquia, 2014). In Bolivia, the species grows in rainforests, semi-deciduous and montane forests, savannahs, and dry valleys (Bolivia Checklist, 2014). In Ecuador, the species was reportedly growing on the slope of a volcano (Candolle, 1885), and more recently has been reported to occur across the Galapagos, Andean, and Amazonian regions (Vascular Plants of Ecuador, 2014).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedProtected agriculture (e.g. glasshouse production) Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

2n = 23, 24, 46, 48, 72 (Wagner et al., 2014). N. tabacum has been involved in recent transgenic research aimed at improving disease and parasite resistance (see e.g., Jin et al., 2014; Sönmez et al., 2014).

Physiology and Phenology

The leaves of Nicotiana plants produce leaf wax toxins on their surface in high concentrations to inhibit blue mould and fungal infections, and N. tabacum has also been studied for its production of phytoalexins as a major defense mechanism in response to microbial infections (Harbone, 1986).

Environmental Requirements

N. tabacum is cultivated around the globe from tropical and subtropical regions up to the temperate latitudes; it can be grown in New Zealand (40°S) and as far north as Sweden (60°N) (Hanelt et al., 2001; Randall, 2012). It is native to the Americas. In Antioquia the species occurs in humid premontane forest climate zone (Vascular Plants of Antioquia, 2014), and in Bolivia occurs in the following vegetation zones: Rain forest, Semideciduo Chiquitano forest, Savannas of northern Beni, Yungas, Tucuman-Bolivan forest, Montane Chaqueno forest, Dry Valleys (Bolivia Checklist, 2014). In Nicaragua the species has been reported occurring between 0 and 1300 m (Flora of Nicaragua, 2014), and in Antioquia the species has been found growing higher, between 1500 and 2000 m (Vascular Plants of Antioquia, 2014). In Panama the species has been collected between 0-1000 m and 2000-3000 m (Panama Checklist, 2014) In Bolivia the species has been found at elevations between 0 and 3500 m (Bolivia Checklist, 2014) and in a wider elevation range in Ecuador of 0-4000 m (Vascular Plants of Ecuador, 2014).

N. tabacum can tolerate various soil types ranging from light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay), with pH tolerance of both acidic and basic soils (PFAF, 2014). It will thrive best in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil under full sun, but has been cultivated under shade in places like Java and Connecticut (Hartana and Vermeulen, 2000). The species is reportedly not very hardy in Britain, but plants can be grown as biennials in areas where winter temperatures do not fall below about -5°C (PFAF, 2014).

Optimum mean daily temperature for growth is 20-30°C, and when grown commercially tobacco requires a frost-free period of 90-120 days from transplanting to last harvest of leaves. A dry period is required for ripening and harvest of the leaves when tobacco is grown as a crop. Excess rainfall results in thin, lightweight leaves. Sun-cured or oriental tobacco requires a relatively dry climate to develop its full aroma. Cultivated tobacco is day-neutral in its response to flowering, except for some short-day varieties.

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
60 40

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -5

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Heliothis virescens Herbivore Plants|Growing point; Plants|Inflorescence; Plants|Leaves not specific Hsiao (1986)
Manduca sexta Herbivore Plants|Leaves
Spodoptera eridania Herbivore Plants|Leaves not specific Hsiao (1986)
Trichoplusia ni Herbivore Plants|Leaves not specific Hsiao (1986)

Notes on Natural Enemies

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N. tabacum is vulnerable to various major diseases and pests. The most serious disease is caused by the soil bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum, which results in root decay and wilting; damage from this disease can be reduced through crop rotation (Hartana and Vermeulen, 2000). Other diseases include tobacco mosaic viruses that cause mottling on leaves such as Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) (Salamon et al., 2013). The species is also host to several insect pests including the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisiatabaci (Li et al., 2014) and the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae). Seeds of N. tabacum are attacked by various fungal infections (Subhashini et al., 2014). Additionally, the seeds of some parasitic weeds of the Striga genus are so small and similar to Nicotiana seeds that they cannot be distinguished and separated from the tobacco seeds, and can parasitize the crop (King, 1966). 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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N. tabacum has primarily spread beyond its native American range to the rest of the world by repeated introductions for local and commercial tobacco production. The species propagates by seeds which are tiny and prolific, with as many as 300,000 per ounce (PIER, 2014), and so are easily dispersed. The seeds are encased in fruits 1-2 cm in size which are not often ingested by animals, as N. tabacum is toxic due to its nicotine content (Houghton, 2005; Thameur and Aida, 2011; Hassine et al., 2013), but due to the miniscule size of the seeds they could be easily transported by water, or through soil attached to clothes, footwear, vehicle tires, cultivation machinery or equipment, or as a soil contaminant. 

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Breeding and propagation Yes Yes Hartana and Vermeulen (2000)
Crop production Yes Yes
Escape from confinement or garden escape Yes Funk et al. (2007); PIER (2014); Randall (2012)
Flooding and other natural disastersTiny and numerous seeds easily dispersed by rainwater and flooding Yes Yes PIER (2014)
Medicinal useUsed in traditional medicine, especially in the Americas and Asia Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Clothing, footwear and possessionsTiny seeds can be transported in soil, on vehicle tyres, on footwear, etc Yes Yes PIER (2014)
Debris and waste associated with human activities Yes Yes Funk et al. (2007); PIER (2014); Randall (2012)
Land vehiclesTiny seeds can be transported in soil, on vehicle tyres, on footwear, etc Yes Yes PIER (2014)
WaterTiny, numerous seeds easily dispersed by rainwater and flooding Yes Yes PIER (2014)

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Negative

Environmental Impact

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N. tabacum is reported to be invasive in Cuba, parts of the Pacific and Asia, and a reported cultivation escape in Europe, the Americas, and Asia (Randall, 2012; PIER, 2014); however, the effects of N. tabacum’s escape from cultivation and invasiveness on native environments needs further research beyond inclusion in checklists and surveys. Lack of research regarding its invasiveness may be due to its lower priority as a weed in relation to more vigorously invasive Solanaceae relatives such as N. glauca and Datura metel, as well as its status as a valuable global cash crop, and its medical and pharmaceutical uses.

Social Impact

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N. tabacum is known to have profound negative impacts on human health, and this could be aggravated by the species’ increased presence through escape from cultivation, naturalization, and invasion to native ecosystems. Tobacco smoking-related deaths in the United States are estimated to be nearly 0.5 million/year, and tobacco use is responsible for one in every five American deaths each year, making it the leading preventable cause of death in the US (HHS, 2014).  

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Negatively impacts animal health
Impact mechanisms
  • Causes allergic responses
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant

Uses

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Tobacco and cotton are the world’s leading non-food cash crops, with N. tabacum providing the primary source of tobacco. Cured and aged tobacco is blended to form smoking or chewing tobacco, which is used in the manufacture of cigarettes or cigars, an enormous global industry. Between 1994 and 1997, the average tobacco production was about 6.6 million tons/year of cured (dried) tobacco leaves, with Asia accounting for 58%, the Americas 21%, Europe 8%, Africa 7%, and West Asia and the Mediterranean area 5%. The largest importers of tobacco, accounting for 35% of world imports, are the USA, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Japan (Hartana and Vermeulen, 2000).

Giving a recent picture of tobacco production, Eriksen et al. (2015) report that tobacco leaf is grown in at least 124 of the world’s countries. In 2012, nearly 7.5 million tonnes of tobacco leaf was grown on almost 4.3 million hectares of agricultural land. China is the world’s leader in tobacco production, with 3.2 million tonnes of tobacco leaf grown in 2012. Eriksen et al. (2015) suggest that over the past 50 years, tobacco farming has shifted from high to low- and middle-income countries, with a significant increase in tobacco farming in Africa.

The alkaloid nicotine, obtained from the stems, midribs and other waste products is widely used in agriculture as a contact insecticide for the control of sucking insects. Tobacco seeds contain no nicotine and the refined seed oil can be used as a substitute for groundnut oil, for illumination and in the oilpaint and varnish industries. The seed cake can be used as a feed for cattle and horses.

N. tabacum is also widely cultivated for medicinal use. In India, the species is used for various skin ailments and topical applications; for example, juice of the species is used in a concoction to and applied to snakebites and caterpillar stings; leaves are powdered and mixed with lime to apply to wounds; dried powder is mixed with latex of Calotropic procera and lime are applied to ringworms and skin diseases; ulcers are treated with a paste made of N. tabacum, Erythrinastricta, and Desmodium caudatum leaves (Jain and Borthakur, 1986). Tobacco has been used as a sedative, vermifuge and for the treatment of gastro-intestinal disorders. Nicotine, on oxidation, yields nicotinic acid, an important ingredient of many vitamin preparations.

Tobacco is an important plant in biotechnology and molecular biology studies. Transgenic tobacco plants are widely used for the study of molecular genetics and the transfer of genes relating to herbicides, virus, pest and stress resistance. It has the potential to be used for the production of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals through 'molecular farming'.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed

Drugs, stimulants, social uses

  • Masticatory
  • Smoking

Materials

  • Pesticide
  • Poisonous to mammals

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Bibliography

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Wernsman EA, Rufty RC, 1987. Tobacco. In: Fehr ER, ed. Principles of cultivar development. Volume 2. New York, USA: MacMillan, 669-698.

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24/08/2014 Updated by:

Marianne Jennifer Datiles, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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