GEORGE BERNARD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY GEORGE BERNARD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Tobacco plant. Engraving of a tobacco plant, Nicotiana sp., with a man (at lower right) smoking it. The tobacco plant is an annual or perennial shrub native to tropical America. It produces the toxic alkaloid nicotine to protect it from damage by grazing creatures. Small doses of nicotine stimulate the human autonomic nervous system but habitual use leads to addiction. Tobacco smoking probably began amongst the Maya peoples of Central America and the habit was taken to Europe in 1556. Photographed from a 1690 book which claimed that tobacco "may be said to be amongst the first rank among medicinal herbs, because of the singular virtues contained therein".
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