This article by Tammy Clayton, Senior Editor of Garden Culture Magazine is republished here from Issue 4 where it appeared under the title, “Freaky Tomatoes”.
In almost every case, the tomatoes were store-bought. One woman found the seeds inside a cherry tomato all germinated. She planted one in a pot out of curiosity.
The thing grew 10 individual main stems! I had this happen with homegrown tomatoes a couple of years ago. There was no cold storage. The fresh-picked tomatoes got tossed within days. Other gardeners have had this happen too, but not with heirloom varieties, to my knowledge.
Are they Frankenmatoes with fish or frog genes in them? Nope. Sources report transgenic genetically engineered (GE) tomato varieties are history. In fact, no new GE tomatoes have been released since 2000 due to regulation difficulties, among other complexities. It does, however, have to do with genetics… and mutants.
A number of hybridized crops suffer from this precocious germination or ‘viviparous’ tendency. An occasional oddball seed that defies the status quo sounds reasonable. But a whole fruit full? Several tomatoes on a stem cluster? How about most or all of your harvest! That ain’t natural. It’s defective.
The cause is hormonal imbalance. Low levels of ABA (abscisic acid), a phytohormone that regulates seed development. Some tomato varieties are more prone to this viviparous activity. Which ones are they? The pretty ones that stay edible in lengthy cold storage, and then in your fridge for weeks after purchase. Bred to stay ripe without aging – a.k.a. Long Shelf Life.
Vivipary was very common with early processing tomatoes bred for one-time destructive machine harvesting. Truss, or cluster types, and cherry tomatoes you buy at the grocery store out of season will all be long shelf life varieties. Long shelf life tomatoes, if picked at the right semi-mature stage and gassed, can remain ‘fresh’ 3-4 months after harvest. Ripened on the plant, they have one month of shelf life – max.
MATURE TOMATO SEEDS DO NOT GERMINATE WITHOUT FERMENTING
While the skin and meat don’t age, the seed continues to mature using the sugars available inside the fruit. The most extreme viviparous tendencies are seen in rin mutant tomatoes that mature, but don’t ripen or rot.
What’s a rin mutant? A salad ornament. It’s bright red and looks good, but has crunch and no flavor. Sound familiar? It has to do with a mutant gene. One that inhibits ripening. Rin mutant hybrids ship better. The store has less loss. They like them. Eaters… not so much.
The rin gene controls the ripening process. In 2002 Cornell University located the gene in tomato DNA. Scientists are working on building a juicy GE tomato. Garden fresh tomato flavor that will ship thousands of miles, and store for months. Fat chance. Juiciness, soft garden fresh texture, and flavor is what makes a real tomato unshippable.
If you cut open a tomato – store-bought or homegrown – and find seeds that are germinating inside… do not eat germinating seeds! Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family. The fruits are edible, the plant is not, no matter how small it is.
Were the tomatoes out of your garden or some you bought at the store? If you did grow them, it might be in your best interests as a gardener not to grow that variety again. It might also be wise to pay closer attention to the seed’s catalog listing. A firm tomato with great storage isn’t something you want from a homegrown tomato. Breeding that commercial growers find beneficial is known to find it’s way into home gardening seeds too. Just one more reason that heirloom varieties are preferable.