Interactions with Other Organisms

Tobacco Hornworm and Budworm

Tobacco plants act as a host for a few species of insects.  The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) and budworm (Heliothis virescens) feed on the plant. The tobacco hornworm is popularly found in the southern United States but does extend northward up to New York.  They are mainly found to feed on the leaves of the plants.  The tobacco budworm is found in the southwestern United States, New England, New York, and even southern Canada.


The herbal part of Nicotiana tabacum is used for medicinal purposes.  The active chemicals that Nicotiana tabacum possess are nicotine and other alkaloids.  It is a traditional Central and South American medicine used to treat constipation and anthelmintic.  The chemicals in tobacco leaves were also used to make insecticidals.

Medicinal uses back in 1675

Immigrants:  Early immigrants into the United States used the herb in tobacco to help digestion, toothaches, and infection.  It was also learned from the natives that it heated them that were cold and cooled them that sweat, meaning it was used to treat colds and fevers.

Native Americans:  Tobacco was most often used as a painkiller for various aches and pains.  Crushed leaves were applied to treat swelling and open wounds just like the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is used for.  The leaves were also chewed up and applied to treat rattlesnake bites.  The main medicinal use of tobacco was that it alleviated pain just like aspirin which is the product of the White Willow.

“In ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she travelled over the world everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And in the place where she had sat, there grew tobacco.” Huron Indian myth “The Spaniards upon their journey met with great multitudes of people, men and women with firebrands in their hands and herbs to smoke after their custom.”

-Christopher Columbus’

 journal, 6 November 1492
(Taken from

Other Organisms

Mutualism: Tobacco is prone to forming a mutualistic relationship with fungi in the phylum Glomeromycota.  Fungi in this phylum are known for their ability to form endomycorrhizae with about 90% of plants.  This is coined a mutualistic relationship because the fungi provides the plant with its absorbing abilities in order to acquire more nutrients to help it grow much better.  The plant provides the fungi with necessary sugars such as glucose.  Tobacco also forms a mutualistic relationship with earth worms.  Earth worms feed on the dead material in the soil composting the material making the soil more fertile for the tobacco to grow.  The tobacco provides the worms food when they perish and decompose into the soil.

Predation/infestation: Tobacco has many pests that are known to infect and feed on the plant resulting in less production of the crop.  Some of these pests and predators include cutworms, wireworms, crambids, hornworms, budworms, tobacco flea-beetle, mole crickets, grasshoppers, tobacco thrips, green june-beetle, cigarette beetle, and the tobacco moth.  Monarch butterflies in their larval form tend to also infest the plant.  Tobacco shares many of these pests and predators with the Yellow Ladyslipper Orchid.

Now that we have explored the various interactions that tobacco is involved in, click here to learn about how this amazing plant undergoes reproduction!

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Logan Van Hoof,  April 2011