Nicotiana tabacum, or cultivated tobacco, is an annually grownherbaceous plant. It is found in cultivation, where it is the most commonly grown of all plants in the genus Nicotiana, and its leaves are commercially grown in many countries to be processed into tobacco. It grows to heights between 1 and 2 meters (3′ to 6′). Research is ongoing into its ancestry among wild Nicotiana species, but it is believed to be a hybrid of Nicotiana sylvestris, Nicotiana tomentosiformis, and possibly Nicotiana otophora.
The plant is native to the Caribbean, where the Arawak/Taino people were the first to use it and cultivate it. In 1560, Jean Nicot de Villemain, then French ambassador to Portugal, brought tobacco seeds and leaves as a “wonder drug” to the French court. In 1586 the botanist Jaques Dalechamps gave the plant the name of Herba nicotiana, which was also adopted by Linné. It was considered a decorative plant at first, then a panacea, before it became a common snuff and tobacco plant.
Tobacco arrived in Africa at the beginning of the 17th century. The leaf extract was a popular pest control method up to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1851, the BelgianchemistJean Stas documented the use of tobacco extract as a murder poison. The Belgian count Hippolyte Visart de Bocarmé had poisoned his brother-in-law with tobacco leaf extract in order to acquire some urgently needed money. This was the first exact proof of alkaloids in forensic medicine.
It is an annual plant that grows 1 to 3 m high and is sticky hairy on all parts. The stems are thick and not very branched. The leaves can be over 50 cm long with the blades ovate to elliptical, or obovate, pointed towards the front and, at the base, run down the stem or are sessile, encompassing the stem.
The scented inflorescences are multi-branched panicles. The flower stalks are 5 to 15 mm long. The calyx is 12 to 18 mm and is covered with uneven 4 to 8 mm narrow pointed calyx lobes shorter than the calyx tube. The crown is plate-shaped, the coronet is white, pink or red, the corolla tube greenish-cream, pink or red. The corolla tube has a total length of 3.5 to 4.5 cm and is 3 to 5 mm wide in the lower part and widens to 7 to 12 mm in the upper part. The coronet is lobed or pentagonal. The stamens are designed unevenly and start below the center of the corolla tube. The anthers of the four longer stamens are close to the opening of the corolla tube or are slightly above it. The fifth stamen is significantly shorter than both longer pairs. The stamens have a length of 2.5 to 3.5 cm, significantly longer than the anthers, and are hairy at the base.
The fruit is a 1.5 to 2 cm long capsule that is narrowly elliptical to egg-shaped. It can stand out over the chalice or be enclosed by it. The seeds are spherical or broadly elliptical and are up to 0.5 mm long with a wavy networked surface.