- May 25, 2011
- near Blacksburg, VA
Cured leaf measurements: approx. 15" x 11". No way to determine stalk level.
Digging into a large box that held many rolled-up, empty ploy-nylon tobacco leaf bags, I came across a surprise hiding at the bottom. "Rabo de Gallo Negro - FmGrowit" was written in Sharpie marker on the outside. Inside were 2-1/2 leaves of this mysterious leaf.
I bought this a long time ago from FmGrowit. It came from a tobacco crop he planted and grew and harvested and cured himself, on his Ohio tobacco farm. As I recall, he was puzzled as to why I re-ordered this variety. The leaf came with a story of unfortunate weather events, and desperate curing. I've never quite sorted the details of that.
There is something wonderful in this Rabo de Gallo Negro (black rooster tail), a variety once grown widely in the Yaracuy River valley in Venezuela. As a cigar condiment filler, it evokes aromas of Hoyo de Monterrey traditional Honduran cigars, even though it is extremely unlikely that Hoyo ever contained any of this leaf.
Back to my discovery: I immediately added the stray half-leaf to a cigar bunch, and smoked it. Of the remaining two leaves, one is fairly tattered from its long, solitary confinement. The other, pictured above, is a fairly complete leaf. It occurred to me that it just might be the last whole leaf of Rabo de Gallo Negro on planet Earth. So I photographed it.
I went back through the GRIN data for this variety.
It sits at about the 90th percentile for measured nicotine, among all available GRIN varieties that were tested. I will agree that its nicotine is "robust," but not unusually so.GRIN original accession data said:NICOTIANA TABACUM
L. Solanaceae. Common tobacco.
From Venezuela. Seeds collected by Raymond
Stadelman, Bureau of Plant Industry.
Received October 23, 1936.
From Guama, Yaracuy.
118533. No. 283. Rabo de gallo negro. [Ti 934]
Although GRIN classes this as "flue-cure" (probably based on its high content of sucrose esters), I am confident that it should be properly classed as "primitive," and a primitive cigar filler variety at that. (It's square vein angle might also suggest a wrapper variety, though it would be a potent wrapper.) With a 50" height, and 16 leaves per topped plant, it seems like a generally average-yielding variety.GRIN observation data said:
- height 126-130cm [~47-50"]
- leaf length 50-60cm [~19.7-23.8"]
- leaf width 29-34cm [~11.4-13.4"]
- leaf number topped: 16
- class: flue-cure
Out of curiosity, I spent a while searching for tobacco production info for Yaracuy, and for Venezuela as a whole. The last mention of "Rabo de Gallo Negro" anywhere in anything I could identify is 6 accessions acquired at about the same time and location by Stadelman in 1936. That's over 80 years since it was documented.
[GRIN original accession data: https://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/pi_books/scans/129/pi129_007.pdf]
Also, I find no indication that Rabo de Gallo Negro was ever grown anywhere besides Venezuela. So, like Guácharo, Rabo de Gallo Negro is a tobacco variety unique to Venezuela. AND...they don't seem to grow it any longer. So it is likely that FmGrowit's crop was the last crop of Rabo de Gallo Negro grown anywhere on earth (except for a 10-plant seed refresh performed by GRIN every 10 years).
Since I believe that Don no longer has even a trace of leaf for this variety, the photo above belongs to the ages.
Seed for Rabo de Gallo Negro does exist. Don holds some, and GRIN holds some. You might think that it would be a no-brainer for me to just request some seed, and grow more. The problem is that I have no idea if the characteristics I love about this variety are inherent in the variety itself or are, instead, due to the series of unfortunate incidents that befell the leaf that I subsequently received.
So, with apologies to O. Henry, you are looking at The Last Leaf, at least for now.