lycopersicum (this is the common garden tomato. There are several other
species in the genus, including cherry and pear tomatoes)
Currant tomatoes...another cool species!
What's up with Lycopene??
You may have noticed that recently there has been a lot of buzz about
a mysterious antioxidant called lycopene. Found almost exclusively
in tomatoes, lycopene became famous in 1995 when a Harvard study found
that this carotenoid (which is responsible for the vibrant red of many
tomato varieties) protected against cancer. Continuing studies seem
to be supporting these findings, and expanding on them with experiments
indicating that lycopenes are more easily absorbed from cooked tomatoes
and tomatoes prepared with fats (Florida Tomato Committee). Since then,
the world has gone lycopene crazy, and everything from lycopene tablets
to powdered supplements are available. And to think, several years
ago they thought it was useless.
How about those Heirlooms?
You’ve probably heard of heirloom tomatoes, but have you ever
wondered what they are or where exactly they come from? Well, here’s
the lowdown: because tomato plants are naturally self-pollinating,
they have the general tendency to become genetically homozygous after
many generations. Early tomato cultivars would thus remain virtually
the same over many years, eventually earning the name heirloom from
the community that kept them. Heirloom cultivars dating back hundreds
of years can still be found growing today, especially throughout Eastern
Because of their colorful backgrounds, heirlooms often
have rich histories, many of which are reflected in their names. Jeff
is an old cultivar from Alabama named after the Confederate president,
a cultivar found growing at Edgar Allen Poe’s estate is named
Hopkins in honor of his mother, and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant (pictured
below) was found growing out of a sidewalk crack in Indianapolis
in 1984 (Cox 2000).
Some tantalizing heirlooms
Photo Courtesy of http://lamar.colostate.edu/~samcox/Tomato.html
Places to BE
Federation -- This nationally based conservation association
has consistently struggled to educate both growers and consumers
about the environmental dangers posed by pesticide and fungicide
Natural Resources Defense Council
national conservation organization that works to ensure a healthy environment
for all living organisms. They have been pushing for stricter regulation
of pesticides used in farming and the expansion of organic farming programs.
-- A group
that promotes the environmentally sound manufacturing, distribution,
and use of crop protection chemicals. Its aims are to allow for safe,
affordable, abundant food in a way that protects the interests of farmers,
consumers, and the environment.
Association of Natural Biocontrol
An organization that represents the biological pest management industry.
This type of pest management utilizes beneficial insects, mites and nematodes
to manage agricultural pests.
Snazzy Facts to Buffen up your Cocktail Party Arsenal!!
Tomatoes are currently the most consumed "vegetable" in America other than
potatoes (Peet 2001)
Tomatoes are the number one contribution to diet in the United States,
particularly healthy, but simply because of the amount of them consumed
-- In 1992, Americans consumed 73.3 pounds of processed and 14.4 pounds
of fresh tomatoes per person per year. (Peet 2001) By 1995, it had increased
to 18.8 pounds of fresh tomatoes per person per year (Cox 2000).
-- The first salsa recipe appears to have been concocted by the ancient
Aztecs, who enjoyed a snack that combined peppers, salt, and tomatoes.
-- The gelatinous coating around many tomato seeds contains chemicals that
prevent the seeds from germinating within the tomato. In order for the
seeds to germinate, the outer layering must be literally rotted away (Floridata
-- Potatoes are so closely related to tomatoes that
they can be grafted onto one another. That means it’s possible to
create a plant that produces both potatoes and tomatoes simultaneously!!
Delicious or Deadly?
Photo Courtesy of http://lamar.colostate.edu/~samcox/Tomato.html
may look like a friendly tomato, but it's actually a deadly nightshade
plant. It makes it easier to understand why Europeans refused to eat tomatoes
for almost 300 years, fearing that they were
Tomatoes originated in the Andes region of Peru, where
the greatest number of wild speciescan be found today. Currently, wild
tomatoes only grow in South America, where 8 species range from the Northern
of Chile to Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands (Cox 2000).
The tomato was first domesticated in Central America as early as 700
C.E. (California Tomato Comission), and now there are over 1,100 cultivated
varieties in the species lycopersicum alone (Dave's Garden
2003). Tomatoes can be grown in both temperate and tropical zones, as
shown by the top 5 tomato producing countries: the United States, China,
Turkey, Italy and India (in that order) (Cox 2000). Within the United
States, the top growing states are California, Florida and Georgia, although
tomatoes are grown almost everywhere.
Image Courtesy of USDA
Counter to public belief that they are a hardy plant, tomatoes are
extremely sensitive to low light and adverse temperatures.
Light: Cultivated tomato plants need at least
6 hours of direct sunlight each day in order to flower.
Temperature: Tomato plants cannot grow healthy fruit if temperatures
drop below 50 degrees or rise above 90 during the day and 70 at night.
This accounts for the fact that, other than those grown in greenhouses,
all tomatoes consumed in the U.S. between November and May come from
either Florida or Mexico (Peet 2001).
* “Wild” tomatoes
(not of the same species as the common garden tomato) have tiny fruits
with thin outer skins,
very little flesh, and a lot of seeds. They are incapable of tolerating
frost, and grow as annuals in the colder regions while in warmer
regions they are perennials
(Cox 2000 and Schuchert)
fruits can be yellow, orange, pink, red, white, purple or black. Their
shape can vary from round to pepper-like, and they can range from
cherry-size to over 2 pounds...that's a pretty big berry!!
Two examples of the awesome diversity of tomatoes:
Photos Courtesy of
most of the weight of a tomato is water…solids
constitute only 5%. These solids are cell walls, sugars (about half of
the dry mass), and acids(about one eighth). It is the ratio of the sugars
to the acids that determines the flavor, although it is usually the tomatoes
with high sugar and acid contents that are considered the most flavorful
(Peet 2001). In general, white and yellow tomatoes tend to be the least
acidic (Floridata 2000).
tomato's internal makeup can vary from having two divisions in the ovary
(locules) to being larger and multi-locular. With cultivated
tomatoes, the number of locules has often been selected for depending
upon the purpose of the tomato. Most processed tomatoes, including plum
and pear varieties, have 2 locules, while fresh market tomatoes are often
multi-locular, providing more chewable flesh (Peet 2001).
The tomato's reproductive habits are consistent with the general angiosperm
All tomatoes, both cultivated and wild are naturally self-pollinating
A close-up of a cultivated
Photo Courtesy of the Institute for Systematic Botany
Development & Lifespan
* Wild and cultivated tomatoes can be either
annuals or short-lived perrenials, depending upon the environmental
conditions and how they
are cropped. In the wild, they have more of a tendency to operate as
perennials (USDA 2002).
are 2 major types of tomato growth: determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate growth produces "bush" tomatoes...individuals
which are bred for compactness. The entire plant stops growing once the
ripens, the remainder of the fruit all ripen simultaneously, and then
the plant dies. Indeterminate growth produces tomatoes
that can grow up to 10 feet in height (so-called "vining" tomatoes) and
will only stop
growing when killed by frost. Their fruit ripen rotationally (GardenWeb).
Conservation: A Pest Affair
group, tomatoes are far from endangered, thus they do not appear on
the United States
Endangered Species Act list, the
IUCN list, or the CITES
Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to fungal
and insect infestation, thus many tomato growers resort to the use of
and pesticides to prevent negative economic consequences from crop loss.
The use of these chemicals, however, often has unanticipated consequences.
For example, insecticides often kill insect species that control weed
populations, and fungicides can kill the microorganisms that are natural
predators of crop-harming nematodes. Also, by lowering earthworm populations,
pest control chemicals can unintentionally affect soil fertility and
water infiltration (Peet 2001).
One of the simplest
ways to reduce pests is via crop rotation. If organized correctly, crop
rotation can result not only pest suppression, but also an increased
in plants to overcome pest damage. This is because well-orchestrated crop rotation
can create more fertile, aerated soil. In general, diversifying rotated crops
by planting species from different families is better for the integrity of the
soil and the plants themselves. There is also the potential to control insect
populations with natural botanical and pheromones (Peet 2001).
The tomato industry itself claims to be improving in the areas of pesticide
and fungicide use. A publicity site claims that many tomatoes today are
virtually free of any chemical residue, as pesticide use has been greatly
reduced due to pest and disease resistant tomato cultivars, Integrated
Pest Management techniques, and drip irrigation. They also state that
crop management techniques are constantly improving both the taste and
the color of purchaseable tomatoes(California Tomato Commission).
Not everyone agrees. Not only do the pesticides and chemicals used to
create the “perfect” tomato
pose an environmental hazard, many people feel that the product itself
is inferior. Many small-based vegetable gardeners feel that the extents
that producers have gone to in order to make tomatoes redder, smoother,
and more shippable have taken away all of their flavor. A home gardening
website bemoans the fact that “today’s commercial tomatoes
are mealy, insipid, odorless, and tasteless replicas of real tomatoes.” (Floridata
Another concern that
is often expressed is the use of ethylene spray to induce shipped tomatoes
ripen. Several groups decry
the use of these chemicals, claiming that they allow the producers to
produce inferior tomatoes (as they are allowed to be picked before ripening)
and cover the fruits yet more chemicals. Tomato growers, on the other
hand, admit that they do often spray their tomatoes, but remind people
that ethylene is the plant's natural ripening hormone (Floridata 2000
and California Tomato Commission).
Some good ol' Home-grown Pesticide-Free Yellow Determinate
Photo Courtesy of Floridata
Animal Feed Resources
Information System. Date Unknown. Solanum lycopersicum. http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/AFRIS/Data/18.HTM Accessed 2003 March 31.
Commission. Date Unknown. Home Page. http://www.tomato.org/
Accessed 2003 April 1.
Cox, S. 2000. “I
Say Tomayto, You Say Tomahto...” http://lamar.colostate.edu/~samcox/Tomato.html Accessed 2003 March 30.
Inc. 2003. Tomatoes Database. http://tomatoes.plantsdatabase.com/b/Solanaceae/Lycopersicon/lycopersicum/ Accessed 2003 April 1.
Inc. 2003. Tomatoes Database-lycopersicum. http://plantsdatabase.com/botanary/go/3489/ Accessed 2003 April 2.
Florida Tomato Committee. 2002. Home Page. http://www.floridatomatoes.org/ Accessed 2003 April 1.
Floridata. 2000. Lycopersicon lycopersicum. http://www.floridata.com/ref/l/lyco_lyc.cfm Accessed 2003 March 30.
Unknown. “What is the difference between "determinate" and "indeterminate" tomatoes?” http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/cornucop/2000072159009801.html Accessed 2003 March 30.
Peet, M. 2001. Sustainable
Practices for Vegetable Production in the South – the Tomato. http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/sustainable/peet/profiles/c19tom.html Accessed 2003 March 31.
Schuchert, W. Date
http://www.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/pr/garten/schau/Lycopersiconlycopersicum/Tomato.html Accessed 2003 March 31.
United States Department
of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2002. PLANTS
Accessed 2003 March 31.
Image Courtesy of
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