Nicotiana attenuata

Ethnobotany. According to James Alexander Teit (1864-1922) in “Ethnobotany of the Thompson Indians of British Columbia” (1900): «The Thompson Indians, at least the upper division, have smoked from time immemorial. Their substitute for tobacco was a plant, a genuine wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata), which grew in the warmest valleys. The leaves were gathered, dried, and greased, and when used were broken up and mixed with bearberry-leaves (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which had first been dried or roasted over a fire. This wild tobacco is now almost altogether replaced by the tobacco of the whites, of which most members of the tribe are very fond, though hardly any of them will smoke it alone, preferring to mix it with bearberry-leaves. Among the upper division of the tribe the women smoke equally as much as the men. Two or three generations ago, however, women seldom or never smoked. Smoking was looked upon as the privilege solely of the men. Only such women smoked as laid claim to being strong in “medicine.”»

According to James Alexander Teit and Elsie Viault Steedman (1930) : «The leaves of this plant are the most important source of tobacco. They are dried and toasted before being smoked. They are often greased to keep the leaves from getting too dry. Leaves of the bearberry…were usually dried, toasted, and mixed with tobacco»… «A decoction of wild tobacco was used as a wash to remove dandruff and prevent falling out of hair. Some people believed it would prevent the hair from turning gray until very late in life. They believed the soaps and shampoos of the Whiteman cause dry, scanty, prematurely gray hair, whereas their own scalp and hair treatments were effective ». 

Among the Zuni People, the smoke is blown over the body to reduce the throbbing from rattlesnake bite. (Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians. Marilda Coxe Stevenson. 1915).

Description. Nicotiana attenuata is a species of wild tobacco known by the common name coyote tobacco. It is native to western North America from British Columbia to Texas and northern Mexico, where it grows in many types of habitat. It can grow tall and compact or, as pictured, shrub-like to several feet tall and wide. It is a hairy and sparsely hairy annual herb exceeding a meter in maximum height. The leaf blades may be 10 centimeters long, the lower ones oval and the upper narrower in shape, and are borne on petioles. The flower cluster bears several flowers with pinkish or greenish white tubular throats 2 to 3 centimeters long, their bases enclosed in pointed sepals. The flower face has five mostly white lobes. The fruit is a capsule about a centimeter long. Flowering season from May to October.

Recent researches. The genomic analysis of Nicotiana attenuata has been recently published by the Max Plank Institute.

In 2012, on the subject of green leaf volatiles released as warning signals, an article was published “Herbivory-induced volatiles function as defenses increasing fitness of the native plant Nicotiana attenuata in nature” by Bartel, Schumann and Baldwin. «Now, a 2-year field study by Schuman et al. has shown plants that emit green leaf volatiles (which are a type of HIPV) produce twice as many buds and flowers – a measure of fitness – as plants that have been genetically engineered not to emit green leaf volatiles. This study was conducted with Nicotiana attenuata, which is a wild tobacco plant that is often targeted by Manduca sexta, a type of moth that is also known as the tobacco hornworm. Green leaf volatiles only increased plants’ fitness when various species of Geocoris—a bug that preys on Manduca sexta—reduced the number of herbivores by a factor of two. This is the first evidence that HIPVs offer indirect defense against herbivores.»

Predators/Pollinators. The main species of pollinators are two hawkmoths: Manduca quinquemaculata and Manduca sexta. The botanist Paulo Cabrita wrote a beautiful article about the Coyote Tobacco titled “The Four Lives of Nicotiana attenuata. «The drawback is that the larvae of these night-active pollinators hawkmoths, also known as tobacco hornworm or goliath worm, are voracious herbivores that cause tremendous damage to coyote tobacco by eating its leaves. Like many larvae of butterflies and moths which are immune to the poisons of the plants they feed from, these larvae are immune to nicotine.»


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