Seeds sprouting inside tomato

Tomato Vivipary: Learn About Seeds Germinating In A Tomato

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits to grow in the garden. They oftentimes produce such an abundance of fruit that gardeners can have trouble keeping up with the harvest. Our countertops and windowsills soon become filled with ripening tomatoes and we scramble to use, can or properly store the tomatoes before they pass their prime. It is generally easy to tell from the skin of a tomato if the fruit is becoming over ripe. However, occasionally a tomato will look perfectly normal on the outside, while a peculiar sign of over maturity, known as vivipary, is taking place on the inside. Continue reading to learn about vivipary in tomatoes.

Why Are My Tomato’s Seeds Sprouting?

It can be quite alarming when you cut into a tomato and see little squiggly green or white things amongst the seeds. At first glance, many people assume these are worms. However, usually upon closer inspection, these stringy, squiggly formations will actually turn out to be seeds sprouting inside a tomato fruit. This premature germination of seeds is known as vivipary, which means “live birth” in Latin.

Although vivipary in tomatoes is not a very common occurrence, it does seem to happen more regularly to certain types of tomatoes, such as on the vine tomatoes. Vivipary can also occur in other fruits such as peppers, apples, pears, melons, squash, etc. Vivipary occurs when the hormones that keep seeds dormant run out or become exhausted, either by the natural maturity of the fruit (over ripening) or from nutrient deficiencies.

An abundance of nitrogen can cause vivipary in tomatoes or even a lack of potassium may be the culprit. The result is seeds germinating in a tomato prematurely.

About Vivipary in Tomatoes

When tomatoes become overripe or some other environmental factor causes tomato seeds to come out of dormancy early, the inside of a tomato fruit becomes a perfect little warm, moist greenhouse for seed germination to occur. If left unchecked, the germinated sprouts of tomato vivipary can eventually pierce through the skin of the tomato and new plants can start forming right on the vine or kitchen counter.

These seeds sprouting inside a tomato can be allowed to grow into new tomato plants. However, you should be aware that these sprouts will not produce exact replicas of the parent plant. It’s also important to know that people have reportedly gotten ill from consuming tomato fruits with sprouting vivipary in them. While most of the time these are perfectly fine to eat, just to be safe (especially if the tomatoes are overripe), fruits with tomato vivipary should be grown into new plants or disposed of, not eaten.

To prevent vivipary in tomatoes, regularly fertilize plants with recommended ratios of NPK and do not allow fruit to over ripen. Be aware, however, that tomato vivipary, while not super common, can just be a natural occurrence.

Q. My mother ordered ever-blooming lilacs, and I would like to have some for my landscape. Can you share with me the site to order these from?

A. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any lilacs that bloom continuously all summer, but there are a few that may re-bloom in late summer and/or fall. Different species and even cultivars within a species vary in their requirements for developing flowers buds. So an individual plant may repeat some years, but skip others.

There are hundreds of lilac cultivars, but only a few selections that are more likely to repeat bloom. Those plants that do re-bloom will generally bear considerably fewer than the normal spring clusters. Removing faded blooms should help encourage repeat blooming.

Some of the following will be available at local garden centers, or perhaps your local supplier can order for you. And all are available from online nurseries.

‘Josee’ is a dwarf re-blooming lilac reaching 4-6 feet tall with a similar spread. Its pink blooms vary in reliability for repeat performance.

Littleleaf Lilac ‘Superba’ has smaller leaves and a spreading habit, reaching up to 6 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The rose-pink flowers may repeat in late summer or early fall.

‘Bloomerang®,’ is a new dwarf selection, reaching 4-5 feet tall and wide, with purple-pink blooms. It is too soon to know how it will perform, but it boasts of excellent fragrance and re-bloom potential. ‘Bloomerang’ is part of the Proven Winners® marketing line and, being quite new, it may be hard to find, as well as a bit pricey, this spring.

Q. I purchased two tomatoes at the grocery. Upon cutting them both open, they are growing “green tomato sprouts” on the inside. I have never seen this before. Does this happen very often? Can I keep growing them?

A. This does happen occasionally to both store bought and homegrown tomatoes. The “normal” balance of plant-growth regulators (PGR) inside the fruit normally inhibits germination until the seeds have been harvested from the pulp. In tomatoes, cool temperatures coupled with low light conditions (such as in refrigeration) is thought to inhibit that particular PGR, thus allowing the seeds to germinate inside the moist, warm environment of the fruit, when brought back to room temperature. We have a photo of such a tomato online at www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/weeklypics/3-3-03.html.

It is best to discard the fruit as well as the sprouted seeds. The sprouts of tomato seeds are toxic, so you should not eat the fruit. And since tomatoes purchased at the grocery are likely to be hybrid in origin, the plants grown from their seeds would be of unpredictable quality.

Q. Would you please explain the difference between a botanical name and a scientific name? My landscaper supplied the botanical names of plants she plans to use. I have dogs and cats, and I am trying to research the toxicity of these plants. My primary source of information has been the ASPCA, which lists the scientific name. Thanks for any help you can provide.

A. Most people use the terms botanical name and scientific name interchangeably, also called the Latin name or Latin binomial. All are referring to the systematic naming of plants, following the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. The scientific name is of two parts: the genus and specific epithet (species) name. The scientific name is the same around the world, regardless of the local language.

Many databases will list both the scientific name and the common names of plants.

The common name of a particular plant can change from region to region or with local dialects. And several plants can share the same common name. So, when investigating toxicity, it is best to look at the scientific name.

The ASPCA database is good — there are also several university web sites with excellent information on toxicity of plants relative to pets and livestock.

Purdue University

University of Illinois

Cornell University

Spring is the time when many of us think about planting tomatoes. I for one am always fascinated with the tomato- sprouting process when I’ve started them from seeds myself. But what I was completely mystified by a few weeks ago was discovering sprouts inside some tomatoes I had purchased from my local produce market. I had seen this a time or two before in store-bought tomatoes (never my own homegrown ones) and at the time determined I had just kept them around too long and they were overripe. That was probably true with my previous experiences, but this time, I knew I had purchased these tomatoes less than a week prior. Each time the tomatoes were of the on-the-vine variety.

When I saw these sprouts in the past, I scolded myself for not consuming my tomatoes fast enough, but gave them a second life in my compost bin. This time, I really really wanted to have the tomatoes with my breakfast, so I did a taste-test and although they didn’t taste awesome, I deemed them edible enough to consume. However, a few hours later I regretted that decision since I experienced very similar symptoms to food poisoning. Although my symptoms did not last as long as other times when I have experienced food poisoning, it was still not the least bit fun.

I wasn’t completely sure that the tomatoes were the culprit, so I did some investigation online and found several articles about tomatoes that had begun sprouting on the inside, otherwise known as vivipary. Vivipary is Latin for live birth and is the term for plants that begin growing while still inside or attached to the mother plant. According to an article on the University of Connecticut College of Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension site, it is common in certain varieties of tomatoes, peppers, apple, pears, and some citrus. Vivipary happens when the hormone controlling the seed dormancy is exhausted or runs out, letting the seed grow in the moist environment inside the fruit.

Apparently I had unknowingly created the perfect environment in my kitchen and had three tiny greenhouses sprouting tomatoes right on my counter. And these sprouts were about to pop right through the skin of the tomato, so I could have taken them out to my garden and planted them.

But the mystery remained … were these sprouts what caused me to become ill? I didn’t find much information to support that theory, but since there were at least a few stories of these sprouts being potentially toxic and some people becoming ill, then it must be true, right? Well, since I couldn’t connect my illness with anything else I ate, and since my dining companion did not become ill after we ate exactly the same meal except for the tomatoes, then I have concluded that the sprouts are the culprit. I have vowed to never let my future tomatoes get too ripe, and if they do, never to let sproutlings cross my lips again. Tomato Consumers Beware!

A few days ago, I bought some tomatoes at the grocery store. They were on-the-vine tomatoes, so it’s safe to assume that all of them were about the same age.

I assumed these were quadruplet tomatoes – all the same age!

Mom told me to never keep tomatoes in the refrigerator. She said cold tomatoes lost their flavor quickly, and that tomatoes should be kept on the windowsill or on the kitchen counter. She also claims that tomatoes should be stored upside-down so the flavor is evenly distributed. I’m sure that’s true because it’s my mom saying so, but I’m not sure how that one works. But I do it anyway.

Two days ago, I selected one of these very nice-looking tomatoes at random and cut a slice off the top. This is the sight that greeted me.

I thought those were worms at first!

I was so startled; this was NOT what I expected to see when I sliced open that outwardly attractive tomato! What WERE those creepy squiggly things? Were they worms? Had I purchased a wormy tomato?

A closer look told me that I had not purchased a wormy tomato; I had, however, purchased a tomato with a little well-preserved age on it, and the two days upside-down on my kitchen counter had added to the aging process in a rather unique way.

Instead of getting mushy, like most tomatoes would do after a few days, this tomato got fertile.

A tomato is, biologically, a fruit, since its seeds are on on the inside, and those seeds had germinated. When this happens, it’s called Vivipary, which is Latin for “live birth” My tomato, meant for salad, was experiencing live birth.

It’s not just tomatoes that can do this; almost any fruit will occasionally experience Vivipary. Apples, peaches, pears, melons, squashes, pumpkins. . . almost any fruit’s seeds can germinate while still inside the fruit. Another pretty cool thing: Seeds germinated inside the fruit will eventually poke right through the skin of the fruit!

Check out my Viviparious tomato today. The sprouts, still watery but now with room to grow tall, are doing just that.

They’re growing really fast, too!

I looked up this phenomenon on the internet and discovered that it’s not really a phenomenon at all; it’s quite common. It’s just that most people will say “GROSS!” and throw the sprouted tomato away, rather than put it in water and take pictures of it. And maybe plan to separate the seedlings and plant them when spring finally arrives. And probably serve the resultant fruit to unwary friends and family and not tell them the origin until they’re already eaten them.

Of course, my family and friends would probably think it was really cool, which, of course, it is.

Be aware that any tomatoes you do get from a Viviparious tomato will probably not be the same kind of tomato you bought, since commercially grown tomatoes are usually hybrids, but there is no reason your tomatoes won’t be real tomatoes, and they’ll probably taste great.

Know, too, that “Vivipary” is not a kind of tomato, like Brandywine; Vivipary is merely the name for the germination-inside-the-fruit process.

As for the other tomatoes on that very same vine. . . . they were fine. They were just. . . . tomatoes. We ate them. They’re gone.

But their Viviparious sister? If all goes well, she will live on and on.

Come on over for dinner. Care for some salad? It’s, um, home-grown.

Attack of the Alien Sprouting Tomato!

Oh gross! Alien tomato seedlings are going to devour your brain! Photo: mykal

Imagine this: You’re sitting down to enjoy a salad made with a beautiful, ripe tomato just picked from the garden. You slice it open and……there are seeds sprouting inside!

That disgusting sight recently greeted reader Mary P. “I was visiting with a lady friend and she sliced a tomato for lunch,” Mary says. “Inside the tomato some of the seeds had sprouted and were green. The tomato was fresh off the vine! How did this happen without sunshine?”

Answer: It’s the aliens! Aliens have traveled many light-years from their war-torn planet and infested our garden vegetables! If you eat this tomato, the aliens will grow inside you, take over your brain, and soon transform the Earth into Tomato World! Oh, the horror! That is precisely why Grumpy never eats uncooked tomatoes.

Now for the much less interesting truth. Although seeds sprouting inside a tomato isn’t normal, it happens more frequently than you might think. The seeds don’t need sunshine to sprout. After all, sun doesn’t touch seeds in the ground. Internal seed sprouting happens mostly with store-bought tomatoes that were chilled during shipping. The seeds think they’ve just gone through winter and now it’s spring and time to sprout. So maybe that “garden-fresh tomato” wasn’t fresh at all! You need to do a better job of choosing friends, Mary. Just sayin.

Holy sprouts! What’s up with the seeds in this tomato?

What you see: White and green squiggles in tomato flesh
What it is: Sprouting tomato seeds!
Eat or toss: As long as the tomato is intact and not showing signs of rotting, etc., it’s entirely safe to eat them. Some say such tomatoes might not taste as good and should be used in cooked dishes, but I’ve eaten them raw and haven’t found the flavor to be off. It probably depends on how much the sprouts have grown.

The story:

We knew this tomato was not long for this world. We were rushing to use it up when we sliced it open and discovered….it was pregnant?

Ok, that’s not really how it works in plant world, but this tomato really was starting to grow baby tomato plants right inside itself. The seeds germinated while still inside the parent plant, splitting open to reveal eager green sprouts. The phenomenon is known as “vivipary” which actually does mean “live birth.”

Why did this tomato’s seeds start unleashing those wormy looking sprouts? First off, it was an older tomato. The hormone that prevents seed germination was probably running low. Second, the tomato was on the counter in my too-warm apartment, where an outdated heating system often creates sweltering indoor weather in January. That high temperature, along with the moist conditions deep inside this tomato, created an ideal germination climate.

So, now that we know what’s going on, there’s the question of whether you should eat these wormy slices. You may be inclined to avoid them because a) they look weird and b) you’ve heard that the green parts of tomatoes carry a toxin similar the toxin that makes very green potatoes unsafe to eat. But, luckily, there’s no need to worry about any harm from those little green tomato sprouts. The substance in question here is tomatine, which is also present in the underripe green tomatoes that are fried in that famous Southern dish, and has not been proven to be particularly dangerous to people, especially in normal-sized quantities. Harold McGee does a great takedown of rumors of toxic tomato parts in the New York Times.

In assessing whether you should eat a viviparous tomato, you’ll also want to do a close inspection for rot or mold — given the age of the tomato, they’re both more likely.

This tomato didn’t have signs of squishy rotten tissue, or spots or fuzz that would indicate fungus, so I ate it and didn’t notice any taste difference. According to Extension.org, tomatoes with sprouted seeds may not taste as good, so they may be best used in cooked dishes. If you encounter one of these wormy delights, my suggestion is to just sample it and make your own call.

SOURCES:
I cut into a locally grown tomato and all the seeds inside the tomato were sprouting — Extension.org
Seeds sprouting inside a tomato – University of Connecticut Extension
Vivipary – Free Dictionary.com
Accused, Yes, but probably not a killer – New York Times

Abscisic Acid – McDaniel College

Growing Apple Seeds + Apple Activities for Toddlers

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We’ve been having fun with all things Johnny Appleseed lately! The other day, I taught my son the “Johnny Appleseed” grace that my aunt sang when I was young:

Oh, the Lord is good to me,

And so I thank the Lord,

For giving me the things I need,

The sun and the rain and the appleseed,

the Lord is good to me.

Amen.

We also read The Value of Love: The Story of Johnny Appleseed, a favorite book from my childhood. My son (and I) learned that Johnny Appleseed took thousands of seeds into the frontier and started orchards wherever he could — his goal was to bring apples to the west so that everyone could enjoy them.

After reading about Johnny Appleseed, we decided to sprout some apple seeds of our own. Interestingly, it was more difficult than I would have thought. First of all, it took us several bags of apples to find some that actually had full sized seeds in the core. Then, I did some research on how to germinate apple seeds. And they take several weeks. In cold. Overwintering in the ground is best. So, if you are really serious about germinating and growing apple seedlings, you should check out these links:

  • Growing New Fruit Plant Trees From Seed
  • Growing Apple Trees From Seed
  • What is the best way to germinate apple seeds?

If you just want to see something sprout for the fun of it, you can follow along and do what we did.

Once we found some apples with seeds inside, we “harvested” those seeds for growing. Bur first, we did an apple stamping activity. I thought about getting out our paints and stamping the apples with paint, but we ultimately went with something simpler as my toddler was hungry and wanted to eat while he played.

We took an apple, cut it up, and made some simple shapes. My son preferred the square “stamp.” What did we use for ink? The apple’s natural juice! On a piece of plain white paper, the wet marks of the apple showed up well enough to entertain a toddler. No mess, easy clean up. That’s my kind of activity.

After some fun stamping, we moved onto the seed growing phase. Our supply list was simple – a plastic bag, wet paper towel, and the seeds themselves. I put the folded paper towel into the bag, then my son added the seeds. We originally added 7 seeds, then over the next few days that number doubled as we ate more apples (we ended up with 15 seeds).
Now, my toddler was a little ambitious, and also added a couple sunflower seeds to the bag. Interestingly, those sprouted too (since we buy them raw). Of the, say, 12 apple seeds, only one sprouted (we had two sunflower seeds sprout). Here are a few pictures of the sprouts growing… these results were after just a couple of days!

And then about a week later, here’s another view of our plastic bag. Notice the green inside? Those are the sunflower seeds, which sprout much more quickly. The apple seed that sprouted is at the bottom right of the bag, it has a little tiny shoot coming out — that’s it.

Overall, we had fun with this experiment. While these apple seeds won’t turn into trees (the bag started molding inside, so I tossed its contents into the compost), my main goal was to learn about nature. To help my son be excited about nature and the plants that he sees around him.

If you are actually trying to get a fruit-bearing apple tree, starting from seed is not the best bet — your fruit will not necessarily be all that great. To create an apple tree with a particular kind of apple, branches are usually grafted from a parent tree. That’s how the fruit is consistent. In nature, in real life, the results are not consistent, the trees cross-pollinate and the fruit changes with each generation. Three Reasons Why You Should Not Save Seeds From Fruit).

So, if you want a fruit-bearing tree, you’d be better off buying a young apple tree. But if you just want to learn about nature, about life? Then by all means, grow some apple seedlings!

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A lifelong bookworm and creative soul, Betsy lives in Michigan with her husband, (soon-to-be-two) boys, and two cats (Betsy’s story). You can read more of her thoughts on life and creative musings at BPhotoArt.com. There, Betsy blogs about a hodgepodge of topics including fine art and portrait photography, parenting, capturing memories, and finding contentment in the journey of life. You can also find Betsy on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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Fully ripe disease-free tomatoes are the best candidates for seed saving. Seeds can be saved casually by squeezing them out onto a paper napkin and then air drying them, but fermentation is a better route.

Fermentation removes germination inhibitors and the gelatinous sheath from seeds, and it may treat some seed-borne diseases. Properly stored tomato seeds may remain viable for over six years.

Bucket of pulp from freshly crushed tomatoes waiting to be poured
into a smaller container to ferment for three days.

  1. Rinse tomatoes in water to remove dirt before harvesting seeds. Cut off open or damaged parts of fruit. We collect tomatoes in five gallon buckets then fill them with water. Cleaning any dirt off becomes a natural sweeping motion with your hands as you grab tomatoes from the water.

  2. Cut open ripe tomatoes one variety at a time and squeeze the pulp, juice and seeds into a container. If you have strong hands, you may crush the tomato in a five gallon bucket. Try to develop skill holding the tomato right side up and opening the tomato from the bottom blossom, and, with your fingers, then milking the germplasm gel which contains the seeds off the central column. This is the fastest method.
  3. Pour into a container with a lid. Do not add water as a substitute for tomato juice since dilution slows fermentation.
  4. Label and set aside the containers for three days at a temperature not more than 70°F (21°C).
  5. Stir the fermenting juices to submerge the pulpy material, once or twice daily. This prevents the build up of mold which is not harmful to the seeds but may discolor them.
  6. After three days decant. Pour into a larger container that allows you to add three or more times the volume of water and pour off the pulpy water but not the seeds at the bottom. Viable tomato seeds will sink. Repeat two or three times until seeds are clean. Note: not all viable seed varieties sink in water.

  7. If selling seeds commercially, soak clean seed in water with a cap of antibacterial bleach, 10% bleach solution, for 30 minutes to kill seed-borne disease. Then rinse seed under cold running water for seven minutes, constantly agitating and stirring the seed. This post-soak rinsing is needed to reduce total residual chlorine to below the National Organic Program (NOP) standard of four parts per million. Sanitize equipment thoroughly between uses to eliminate Late Blight contamination.
  8. Pour the seeds into a fine mesh sieve or window screen. Lightly spray off remaining gel or debris. If drying the seeds on a screen, spread out with water spray, not your hand. Wet tomato seeds will stick to your hand.

  9. Tap the strainer or rub your hand under it to remove excess water. Flip the strainer over, smacking it on a paper plate to deposit the seeds or allow seeds to dry on a screen.
  10. Label drying plate or screen with the variety name and date harvested.
  11. Let the seeds dry for five to six days at room temperature in a well-ventilated place.
    Stir and crumble seeds with your fingers daily to prevent them clumping together.
    As the seeds dry, lightly rub clumps together between your palms to separate
    seeds. We also rub dry seeds through a #2 cleaning screen .132 to separate
    remaining clumps before bagging, available from www.horizonherbs.com.
  12. Store in zip lock plastic bag in a cool, dark, dry place. Place label inside the bag. Refrigeration of seeds is not necessary but okay. Do not freeze seeds.

Bridget standing in front of some of the drying racks at Restoration Seeds.

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