FIND MORE NICOTIANA. It was one of my “to-do’s” for 2013, from the list of early resolutions made as I began fall cleanup, a mandate aimed at more summer-into-fall pleasure for me and visiting hummingbirds. Little did I know that seed for such easy flowers would be so hard to find, leading me not to some familiar seed company but to the peripatetic farmers of Walking Roots Farm in Oregon—one of whose first names, Kollibri, translates as hummingbird. Score!
I came upon Kollibri (below, curing tobacco leaves), and his farming partner, Nikki, thanks to their listing in the online collective called Local Harvest [dot] org. Why, I wondered, was my endless Nicotiana search, already many pages deep into Google results, taking me there?
I knew Local Harvest as a great place to find a nearby CSA farm to buy a share of, or to order farm-made cheeses or meats or even wildcrafted salves and soaps and such—but Nicotiana? Turns out that Kollibri and Nikki are former CSA farmers from the Portland, Oregon, area, and so the connection. And I couldn’t resist their online claim, under their internet store called Daggawalla Seeds and Herbs, founded in 2012 [UPDATE: Daggawalla is having a final sale and closing up shop in December 2015 so hurry!]:
“This is a one-of-a-kind offer that you’ll find nowhere else on the Internet. No other seed merchant offers this many different species of Nicotiana!”
Besides various forms of familiar Nicotiana alata and an unnamed one they refer to as Nicotiana incognita, the 12-variety sampler pack I succumbed to instantly includes such goodies as:
- Nicotiana glauca (top photo): To 30 feet tall in its native Argentina (it got to 14 feet for Daggawalla in Oregon their first year); yellow flowers, and the leaves are not sticky like other species
- Nicotiana maritima: From Australia, with small white flowers on 5-foot plants
- Nicotiana rustica: Ceremonial Hopi tobacco, 3 feet tall and yellow flowers
- Nicotiana knightiana: Green flowers, seven feet high; from the Peruvian coast and loved in UK gardens
- Nicotiana langsdorfii: To 3 feet, chartreuse flowers, a garden favorite here at my place; pollen is actually blue (detail above)
- Nicotiana acuminata: From Chile, 5 feet tall with white flowers and leaves that smell like tomato (which, like Nicotiana, is in the Nightshade family)
- Nicotiana glutinosa: To 3 feet and from the Andes; flowers are a showy peach-colored
- Nicotiana sylvestris: Andean species with long white flowers, plants to 7 feet tall, very fragrant, leaves can be dried and smoked
With some that need a longer season to set seed, Kollibri has gone to lengths to dig the plants up and set them inside a hoophouse to extend the season. He’s busy building up seed stock of a couple of other species now; the genus includes more than 70 species in all, so this passion and treasure hunt could keep him busy for some time to come.
HOW DID THE INTEREST in flowering tobacco begin, I asked Kollibri when we finally spoke? It’s a long way from cultivating farm-market vegetables.
“It started with wanting to grow my own smoking tobacco, but soon branched off from just Nicotiana tabacum [the species most commonly associated with smoking] when my research revealed that the First Nations here used other species ceremonially.”
N. rustica is probably the best known of those, he says, but, “many other species were cultivated from coast to coast, and from North to South…and used as a form of currency for exchange for longer than the dollar has existed.” Fascinated, he searched onward.
“I’ve spent hours and hours entering each species name with quotes marks around them into Google trying to see if anyone is selling them.” (Me, too.)
That Nicotiana attracts hummingbirds–his namesakes–was also part of the appeal, he admits, and this:
“We are also fascinated by the night-flowering species of Nicotiana, because they can attract night pollinators, which in turn can attract bats. In 2011 we had a lovely night-blooming garden of Nicotiana that also included moonflower (Datura inoxia), a fellow-Nightshade. So lovely to stroll in a garden where the fragrance and flowers are best under the stars! Just magical!”
BESIDES SEEDS for tobacco species, the Daggawalla inventory features herbs such as Tulsi (holy) basil and the rare Kivumbasi Lime basil; staples like amaranth, lentils and millet and even oats—with some of the latter going into facial scrubs and other handmade products that are Nikki’s personal specialties (that’s her, above, with a crazy-good cabbage harvest). Everything is grown organically, and either farm-raised or wild-crafted personally by the duo.
Oh, and the site is also loaded with cats, including Fugz the Farmcat:
“We have been accused of being a cat-worshipping cult and neither confirm nor deny that rumor,” says Kollibri. As you might therefore expect: catnip, both seeds and dried, plus “Chill Out” tincture and teas and more, are also among the offerings. (My Jack has sampled and approved. Apparently Fugz helped mind the catnip starts, above; he looks totally stoned to me, which I suppose confirms Jack’s evaluation of the crop. An update: I learned a couple of days after posting this article that Fugz passed away this week; he was buried in an herb garden, with catnip sown over the site.)
I SAID AT THE TOP of this page that Nikki and Kollibri of Walking Roots Farm, aka Daggawalla, were peripatetic, and I meant that literally. They don’t own a farm, but farm different land in Cascadia each year. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get self-sowns, or volunteers, from last year’s crops. (All my Nicotiana are from self-sowns each year—so I had wondered out loud to them about that.)
No worry, they said, both laughing at my query. What’s so funny, I said?
“We use worm castings, coconut fiber or coir, and perlite to make our seed-starting mix,” they replied, “and we reuse some of it. So no worry about missing out on catnip, motherwort or Nicotiana self-sowns…they all come up in our seedling soil mix.
“The last year’s crop follows us to where we farm next, you see.”
shop for nicotiana seed
daggawalla’s nicotiana seed-starting how-to
KOLLIBRI AND NIKKI of Daggawalla Seeds and Herbs recommend starting flowering- or smoking-tobacco seeds like this: “Press tiny seeds onto surface of already-moistened soil. Keep pots in a water-filled tray in a sunny, warm location. Avoid surface watering until germination, except with a mister. After first set of true leaves have sized up, thin to one plant per pot and transplant out. Give plants full sun.”