Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), an Argentinian perennial related both to cultivated Tobacco and Australia’s native Nicotianas. Highly toxic, it was introduced to Australia as an ornamental plant via the UK and the Cape Colony at South Africa.
A writer in the Adelaide Observer spruiked the plant in 1846, calling it ‘strongly recommended to the notice and cultivation of those who are attached to ornamental gardening, as a most elegant plant, and likely to thrive well in this climate.’ This despite what the writer went on to observe, that though difficult to cultivate from seed, ‘the seed itself is most wayward in its choice of a locality, and will vegetate almost every place except where desired.’
In Melbourne, the nurseries of both T. McMillan and J. and J. Rule advertised the plant for sale by 1855.
Naturalised plants had been recorded in South Australia by 1850, and were found on the Upper Darling River in NSW in 1884. The first record from Victoria dates to 1888 at Swan HIll.
By the 1890s, writers would decry its introduction, calling it more serious than the rabbit plague. ‘The seeds are carried about by every wind, and they germinate wherever they lodge after the slightest rainfall… In Wilcannia, the common or recreation-reserve, we have been informed, was converted into a wilderness in a couple of years by being literally covered with the noxious plants.’ Even von Mueller, an acclimatisation proponent, apparently confided in one columnist that he had viewed this plant’s introduction to Australia as a deplorable event.
Widespread in NW Victoria, where it invades seasonal and semi-annual floodplains through the transport of its extensive seed banks by floodwater, Tree Tobacco is uncommon in the metropolitan. Occurrences here are primarily the result of windblown seed from local ornamentals or (perhaps) from the larger infestations in arid Victoria.
This corrects and expands on a short-lived post where I conflated Green Cestrum with a genuine Tree Tobacco. Mea culpa.