• April 20, 2024

The Tobacco Plant – A Journey From American Indians to Columbus

Cigarettes, cigars, snuff, and pipe and chewing tobacco all are made from the leaves of the tobacco plant.

No European had ever seen tobacco before Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies. But the fragrant leaves had been used by American Indians for as long as they could remember. They smoked tobacco for pleasure and used it in their rituals and ceremonies.

Following the discovery of America the use of tobacco in cigar and pipe smoking grew rapidly in many parts of the world. At first the Spaniards and Portuguese carried on most of the trade in tobacco. Then in 1612 in Jamestown, Virginia, John Rolfe (1585- 1622), an Englishman who later married the Indian princess Pocahontas (1595- 1617), harvested a Best pipe tobacco crop of a new type of tobacco. It had been grown from the seeds of the mildly flavored Nicotiana tabacum, a tobacco that probably came originally from Brazil. Rolfe’s seeds are believed to have come from Trinidad.

This new tobacco rapidly replaced the harsh, strong tobacco that the natives and early settlers in North America had been growing until then. Exporting this new tobacco to Europe made Jamestown economically successful. The mild tobacco that Rolfe planted is now the one most commonly grown. The strongly flavored species is grown only in small quantity and in a very few countries.

The tobacco plant usually grows 4 to 6 feet high. The leaves are large, 2 or 3 feet in length and perhaps half that in width, and their tips are pointed. They are covered with many long, soft hairs that hold a gummy juice. The flowers are a light rose color.

Tobacco is an important product in over 66 countries. However, the United States, the first country to grow tobacco in quantity, still produces more than any other country. Because of the many differences in growing conditions and plant varieties, there are many ways in which it is grown. All commercial tobacco needs a lot of care. The plants are very sensitive to climate, to the way they are cared for, and to the soil in which they are grown.

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