Skip to Content
Return to Home Page
Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Indian tobacco  (Nicotiana quadrivalis)

Click on images to enlarge 

Life stages of indian tobacco flowering stem seedling mature plant seeds

Indian tobacco, a California native, is a summer annual broadleaf plant. It appears throughout California, except the Modoc Plateau and Sonoran Desert, to about 5000 feet (1500 m) and typically grows in foothills and valleys, on open slopes and well-drained flood plains (washes). It can be weedy in various annual crops such as cotton, tomatoes, and melons. It gets its name from its cultivation by Native Americans for smoking tobacco.

Appears throughout California on foothills and valleys, flood plains and sometimes in cultivated areas.


Indian tobacco is found in open, well-drained flood plains (washes), slopes, foothills, valleys, and occasionally, annual crop fields.


The cotyledons (seed leaves) are gray green, hairy, sticky, and one-half times as long as wide. They have a foul odor. Early true leaves lie flat on the ground, are egg shaped, pointed at the tip, gradually taper toward the base. Some leaves have stalks and others are stalkless.

Mature plant

The mature plant forms a rosette, grows erect from about 1 to 6 feet (30–182 cm) tall, with branches that rise with an upward curve or slant, and is heavily scented. Leaves alternate along the stem; lower leaves are lance- to egg shaped; roughly 1-1/2 to 10 inches (4–15 cm) long with short stalks, and covered with soft, sticky hairs (glands). Upper leaves are smaller and are nearly stalkless, unlike the upper leaves of manyflower tobacco, Nicotiana acuminate, which are stalked. Flowers remain open at night as opposed to the similar looking desert tobacco, N. obtusifolia (formerly trigonophylla), whose flowers open during the day.


Flowers bloom from May through October. Flowers are white, single, and disperse on short stalks along open branches. The base of each flower is a slender light green tube (corolla tube) that flares at the top into 5 white lobes (fused petals). A whorl of leaflike green sepals with lance-shaped teeth, envelop the corolla tube.


The fruit is a smooth, oval-shaped capsule, approximately 3/5 to 4/5 inch (15-20 mm) long with 2 cells containing many small seeds. Each capsule holds roughly 24 seeds.


Seeds are tiny reddish brown.


Indian tobacco reproduces by seed.

Related or similar plants

  • Manyflower tobacco, Nicotiana acuminate Hook var. multiflora
  • Tree tobacco, Nicotiana glauca Graham

More information