a dozen unusual nicotiana, from daggawalla

nicotiana glauca from daggawallaFIND 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?

curing tobacco with daggawalla's kollibri

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!”

nicotiana sylvestris detailBesides 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!”

nikki of daggawalla and cabbagesBESIDES 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:

fugz-in-catnip“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.”

  1. Jackie P. says:

    Very interesting site. Would love to know more about these farmer’s lifestyles. Do you know of (or can recommend) any other sites that offer botanical creams/ointments, etc.?

    1. Pam says:

      Mountain Rose Herbs is very reliable. Richters offers some nice salves (they are based in Ontario, Canada). There are hundreds of small herb businesses making creams and salves and I recommend a local search in your area, google/bing/yahoo browser search. Explore those local resources, I bet you will find a true gem. For example, Phoenixherbs.com is a Kansas City resource where herbalists offer an abundance of small batch products that are high quality.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Brian. Yes, the links are OK — their server must have been too busy or something. I got through before and just now again.

  2. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    So interesting! I have to try more Nicotiana in my garden. What a great resource – thanks so much. I didn’t have any trouble with the links and believe me if there’s trouble to be found, I’ll find it!

  3. This was fascinating. I tried winter-sowing Nicotiana last year (I’m in North Carolina) but failed utterly. So I bought a flat of them instead, and the tobacco hornworms promptly devoured them. I think I will give this one last try, using Daggawalla’s seed-starting advice. Seriously, if you can’t grow tobacco in North Carolina, where can you grow it?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sarah. I wan interested to “meet” this pair, too, and their Nicotiana. I have tobacco hornworm here, too, but usually very late in the season — meaning I get the crop to myself and by the time they eat it, it’s almost the bitter end here anyhow. I think that’s because all my plants come from self-sowns, meaning they are probably later to start than seedlings brought outside from the greenhouse. So maybe timing will help — start later? I don’t know, just guessing. Most times w/insects etc. having the crop at a different time than they “expect” helps.

  4. I grew a purple nicotiana last year and it was a bust. It didn’t smell like anything and the pollinators and hummers ignored it. It didn’t even attract those big dopey hornworms. It was as if it didn’t even exist except to take up valuable container real estate. Argh!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Casa Mariposa. Interesting. The hybrids with their bigger and less-tubular flowers don’t seem as interesting to my hummingbirds here as the more old-fashioned species types with their little trumpets.

  5. leslie land says:

    Being a big nicotiana fan, I was of course thrilled to see this post. I’ve grown and loved sylvestris and langsdorfii for years, found glutinosa as a potted “giant annual” (on sale, thank goodness, as even then it wasn’t exactly a deal) at the end of summer 2012. Gorgeous, but the two plants I got never really took hold in my Maine coast garden… probably too late in the season.

    The first-time find that DID flourish, even though the seedlings were way potbound, is N. mutabilis. Huge multibranched plants of tiny flowers, pink and white on the same plant. Fragrant although not in the same league as good old alata. Hornworms hit it, unfortunately, but I’m hoping that was a one-time thing. Also hoping Dagawalla has it; haven’t checked yet but will momentarily.

    Thanks SO much for the big Nicoitana nudge, Margaret, and a very happy new year to you.

  6. Terryk says:

    I am hoping they still have some left by the time I can get onto their website. It seems to be overloaded, probably because your newsletter just alerted us again. You have started the seed sowing juices here Margaret. I have just retired so maybe it will be a good project and I will have more success because I am home to tend them (it sounds good doesn’t it?)

  7. robert a says:

    Thanks for the great source, Margaret. I’m a big fan of Nicotianas and have grown several of those listed… my favorite remains N. mutabilis, a gorgeous companion to late-season grasses. One word of friendly caution: be sure to be ruthless in your thinning of volunteers in the second season! Most of them are quite prolific (and promiscuous with interbreeding) and will come up in the thousands. These are large, bold plants that require lots of space, warmth, and rich soil to develop properly—two square feet is not too much PER PLANT for most of them! Otherwise I’ve found them largely carefree and very rewarding.

  8. Sharon says:

    love nicotianas as well, especially langsdorfii, dying to order from them – links have not worked for me either, darn! Select Seeds sells mutabilis which I have grown for years

  9. Kollibri says:

    Such a lovely article, Margaret. Thank you!
    The technical issues with the daggawalla website have been worked out. We had not gotten that much traffic at once before, and it bent some things ’til the broke, so to speak. But we have figured it out, and everything should be functioning well now. Thanks for your patience!

    1. margaret says:

      A good problem to have, Kollibri! So many people interested in your beautiful collection of goodies. So happy to have all connected.

  10. Sally Roach says:

    The link didn’t work for me either, after trying it probably 20 times, still said that IE could not bring it up. I’m on the West Coast, so maybe that makes a difference in it coming up? Thanks for the article though. I love nicotiana!

  11. Susan Gilmour says:

    A friend of mine has tall pink/red nicotiana in her garden, She thought they must have crossed with the short colourful variety. I planted some of her saved seed and sure enough they come up pink/red with dark or lighter on the back of the flower, ever see this? They are gorgeous.
    The site works for me!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Nance. It’s a simple greenhouse — held up with hoops (conduit or other hoop-shaped framing parts) and covered in poly (plastic). So a “high tunnel” is another word for it. Often unheated, or minimally so.

  12. Irena says:

    Thank your for introducing such interesting people. After I read Collibri’s articles, it made me think again about big farms and mono cultures vs small scale, more human and responsible farming, it’s challenges and little or no support from government. I hope that NY Senator Gillibrand will bring the voice of the “small” to the Agriculture Committee.

    And – I want the green one and the chartreuse!

  13. Sandra Hess, CPM says:

    Susan: would you have a couple seeds to spare? lol. I would love to grow that tall red/pink nicotie! I’d send you some seeds in turn for a tall plant that produces quite beautiful flowers that have a fairly long tapering spike profile that offers a pink color that shades progressively into shades of lavender. I have been on the search to find out what the name of this plant is. I collected the seeds from an Amish mother who did not know what it is called (nor did her mother).
    I grew these plants in containers successfully this past summer – but believe they will frow more vigorously in the ground this coming year. They were very tolerant of heat and dry -for we had a pretty impressive 2012 -drought year.

    1. Cynthia says:

      A note to perhaps answer Sandra’s question, though it was asked over a year ago. Sandra, look up Cleome hasslerana. It’a an old-fashioned plant. I know it as magenta and white but understand nurseries have developed rose, pink and purple.
      It’s an old fashioned historic plant. I’d never seen a nighthawk moth until I was gifted a pot of Cleome and one evening both the pot of Cleome and I were sitting on my deck and I heard what sounded like a humming bird! Nighthawk moths come for the nectar and especially now when we need to be cultivating a diversity of pollinators, I’m for supporting clone and Nighthawk moths.

  14. Anne Allbeury-Hock says:

    Hi Margaret…I read in a seed catalog that some varieties of Nicotiana seeds
    are poisonous???? Having Mr. Wonderful,, My Portuguese Water Dog, in
    tne garden with me, makes me worry about these things. What do you think?
    Thanks, from Anne

  15. Honeybee says:

    I have to say how impressed I am with Daggawalla. I placed a small order for Nicotiana seeds with them, based on your article, and they sent me a personalized, handwritten note with growing tips, plus a coupon and free seeds. Nice!

  16. Kollibri says:

    We are glad so many people share our enthusiasm for Nicotianas!

    Margaret published this article in 2013, and this year we have new species in our collection, including the very rare “Cimarrón Nicotiana” (Nicotiana solanifolia), from Chile. We are one of just two sources for this seed in the U.S.A., which we originally acquired from a Chilean seed-house.

    We have put together a seed set for those who purchased the “All Nicotiana Set” in 2013 and who just want the new seeds in 2014. It can be found here: http://daggawalla.com/?p=3850

    We love feedback and invite anyone/everyone interested in Nicotiana to contact us.

    Thanks again, Margaret, for the lovely article!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sallie. I am in Zone 5B, Hudson Valley of NY State, and they self-sow in many half-shade spots in my yard (as well as sunny ones). I can say that they do fine in that part-shade situation, though they may lean toward the source of the light (taller ones) as any plant will do. Try N. sylvestris (white, tall) as a start, for instance, assuming you are not referring to a really deep dark shade environment, where I have no first-hand experience nor do I think they’d be happy. Also: not dry shady spots! These plants seem to prefer a soil that doesn’t bake.

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