Collectibles from Peta Trahar's richly planted garden at Woodgreen

18 Jan 2016

Nicotiana mutabalis

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Nicotiana mutabilis – A rarity


I was immediately won over by the floral profusion of this elegant plant. Its few self sown seedlings are being transplanted all around our garden borders to insure its continual presence. My treasure is Nicotiana mutabilis a native of southern Brazil. This is a distinct species recognised officially in 2002 and unknown to most gardeners until recently. It is a good example of a rare, unusual and highly desirable plant.


Nicotiana, the genus for all types of tobacco including smoking, chewing and flowering ornamentals is named after Jean Nicot, the 16th century French Consul to Portugal. There are many species and hybrids available to the collector.


I was given Nicotiana mutabilis with the advice that it would perform as an annual or short lived perennial, however my original is still going strong after 3 years. It has formed a woody base from which sprout large, soft slightly fuzzy velvety leaves. The much branched, elegant, slim wiry flower stems carry tubular blooms that open white, then change through pale pink to magenta over a few days. All of these colours are present at one time. The effect is similar to the much loved Rosa mutabilis.


Nicotiana mutabilis is never without a flower but is most prolific in the warmer months. Some support is needed against wind. Average watering is required and it will take sun to light shade. I’ve seen it growing in Sydney, Hobart and the Blue Mountains.


In its native habitat the blooms attract humming birds, bees and butterflies. Our Eastern Spinebills enjoy feeding from the airy flowers. Nicotiana mutabilis lacks fragrance unlike its night scented relatives Nicotianas sylvestris, alata, and suavelens, an Australian native. Do not let this deter you from growing Nicotiana mutabilis as it is so beautiful.


I also have the green flowered Nicotiana langsdorfii and the grey leaved Nicotiana knightiana, however mutabilis is the clear winner. Visitors gravitate to it in the garden on our open days for Australia’s Open Garden Scheme and during the Collector’s Plant Fair, held annually in April.


Propagate Nicotiana mutabilis from seed which is not always easy because the seed is very light and should not be covered with any propagating mix. I have tried basal cuttings with success. My preference is to wait for self sown seedlings and then transplant them. Interestingly one of the closest relatives of Nicotiana is the well known Petunia, a much loved Summer flowering species.

Walk peacefully, smell the roses and be touched by the hand of Nature
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