Mutant Tomatoes? Not So Fast!
Have you ever seen tomato plants sprout right out of a ripe tomato? It looks sort of spooky, like something from a horror movie. Here’s a letter we received from Carol Gorby of Manchester, Ohio:
“I recently purchased at the supermarket a group of tomatoes still attached to the vine. We ate some, however two were left over and sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks. No sign of decay or mold on them but I noticed one started getting bumpy. Eventually something broke through the skin and grew a small leaf. Soon all of them were trying to break out, but still no sign of decay or rot.
“I pulled the tomato apart and found many small sprouted seeds with roots growing into the body of the tomato. I plan to plant them and see what happens.
“Is this nature’s way of reproducing or is this a side-effect of hybridization? Can this be due to GMO? Why no decay or odor? I’m now somewhat dubious about buying these tomatoes…”
The short answer is that there’s nothing unnatural going on here. It’s actually a natural phenomenon called “viviparity”. Viviparity literally means “giving live birth”, from the Latin vivus (“living”) and parere (“to beget”). In botany it’s called vivipary and refers to reproduction via embryos, such as shoots or bulblets, as opposed to sprouting from a dormant seed. Vivipary also may refer to plants arising from buds or seedlings that have formed or germinated while still on the parent plant, and drop to the ground when they’re ready to establish themselves in the soil.
Tomatoes naturally inhibit the growth of their seeds until the seeds are dried, however the inhibiting hormone weakens with age or refrigeration. The hormone breaks down, allowing the seeds to sprout while still inside the tomato. This is perfectly natural. Certain varieties are more prone to vivipary than others.
Tomatoes that are picked green (like most store-bought tomatoes) don’t need to rot for the seeds to begin sprouting. These fruits are safe to eat, but they don’t taste very good.
Thanks to Carol Gorby, and to Stephen James Boehme for researching this column.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.