Something About Tobacco

Tobacco Taxonomy

TOBACCO is a plant that has long been widely cultivated and just as widely maligned. Tobacco belongs to the family Solanaceae, genus NICOTIANA, The scientific name that refers to one of the first advocates ( for health reasons! ) of the "sot weed", The French ambassador to Portugal (1559- 61), Jean Nicot. Tobacco also boasts several surprising genetic cousins, including the potato, the chickpea, the tomato, and the pepper.

There are over sixty recognized species of Nicotiana. Of these, however, only two - N. Tabacum and N. Rustica - are commonly used for consumption.

N. Rustica was already grown by natives when Columbus set foot on America. It is that species, with its greenish yellow flowers. That was brought to the old world, where it had to trouble adapting to its new surroundings.

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N. Tabacum has given rise to numerous varieties, which include the majority of tobaccos raised commercially. It has a distinctive pyramidal shape, with the plant's largest leaves growing at it's base near the ground. The color of its flowers varies from white to red.

A third species, N. Alata, includes a Persian variety called TUMBAK or TUMBAKI, cultivated in Turkey and Iran for use in NARGHILES, or waterpipes. Other species, N. Sylvestris and N. Alata Grandiflora, are prized as ornamental plants.


Phylum:             Spermatophyta
Class:                 Angiospermae
Subclass:            Dicotyledoneae
Order:                Campanulales
Family:              Solanaceae
Genus:               Nicotiana
Species:             Tabacum

How Tobacco Grows

N. Tabacum sends down a main root that rapidly branches out into ten to fifteen secondary roots. Most grow to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm), although some may plunge as much as 60 to 78 inches (1.5 to 2 M) into the earth. It is through the tip of each of these roots that nutritive elements are absorbed.

The stem itself is shaped like a slightly  tapering cylinder and grows from 60 to 71 inches (1.5 to 1.8 M) high and 5/8 inch to 1 inch (1.5 to 2.5 cm) thick. It sprouts buds along its entire length (which become the plant's leaves) and a final bud at its tip, the upper part of which eventually blossoms.

The length of the leaves depends upon the variety of tobacco plant and can measure anywhere from 2 to 39 inches (5 to 100 cm). The shape, too, may differ from one variety to the next, appearing either oval, oblong, tapering, or round. The surface of the leaf consists of two type of tissue, one of which secretes an oily fluid known as Meluza. The quality of the tobacco hinges on that essential secretion.

The plant puts forth in total from fourteen to eighteen leaves in groups of two or three at various levels along the stem. Starting from the base of the plant and moving upwards, these sets of leaves are called Libre De Pie, Uno Y Medio, Centro Ligero, Centro Fino, Centro Gordo, and Corona.

A  fully mature leaf, grown in favorable conditions, has a surface area of 144 to 224 square inches (0.096 to 0.144m2). A single specimen of N. Tabacum represents some 25 square feets (2.3 m2) of the usable tobacco. 

The tobacco flowers, borne in a panicle, produces a capsule-shaped  fruit that is divided into two cavities containing two to four thousand minute seeds.

The Havana Cigar - Cuba's Finest
by Charles Del Todesco