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Solanum lycopersicum

Previously known as:

  • Lycopersicon esculentum
  • Lycopersicon lycopersicum
Phonetic Spelling
so-LAY-num ly-koh-PER-see-kum
This plant has medium severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Tomatoes are a garden favorite and the most popular homegrown vegetable. The fruits come in various colors from yellow to red to purple and size small to large.  Tomatoes are grown as an annual, but in frost-free climates, they are perennials. The plants can grow 3 to 10 feet tall and 1 to 4 feet wide. The plant usually has glandular hairs that are very "sticky." While the portion eaten is botanically a fruit, tomatoes are considered a vegetable due to their savory flavor. All green parts of the tomato plant are poisonous. They are in the Solanaceae or nightshade family which includes potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

Tomatoes are native to Peru, but they have spread worldwide after the Spanish colonization. China is the largest tomato-producing country, followed by the United States, Turkey, India, and Italy.

The genus name, Solanum, is the Latin word, solamen, which means "comforting or soothing."  The species name, lycopersicum, means "wolf peach." Tomatoes were called "wolf peaches" when they came to Europe. This originated from a German legend that witches and sorcerers used the fruits in potions to turn themselves into werewolves. The word "tomato" originates from the Spanish word tomate. The French call the tomato. the pomme d'amour or 'Love Apple," because they believed it was an aphrodisiac.

Tomatoes need fertile well-drained garden soil, full sun, warmth, and moderate water. They prefer moist, loamy, and slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.8. Keep the soil consistently watered to avoid blossom end rot and splitting fruit.  While they need decent nutrition, too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, can lead to extensive leafy growth with little fruit production. They also prefer temperatures between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The use of cages or staking the plants will keep the stems from breaking or drooping from the weight of the tomatoes.  The plants are reproduced by seeds and are best planted 2 to 3 feet apart and 1/4 inch deep. Harvesting of fruits may occur 2 to 3 months after planting the seeds or up to 4 to 5 months depending on the variety. 

The stems and the leaves of the tomato plant are densely hairy. The green leaves are 4 to 10 inches long with 5 to 9 leaflets and each leaflet is 3 inches long with serrated margins. The flowers are less than 1 inch in diameter, yellow, and have 5 lobes. They appear in clusters of 3 to 12 blooms. The tomato is the fruit and is classified as a berry. The average tomato weighs about 4 ounces. 

The leaves, stems, and green unripe fruits contain small amounts of toxin alkaloids known as tomatine and solanine. The tomato plants are toxic to dogs if a significant amount of the fruits or foliage are eaten. 

There are thousands of varieties and cultivars of tomatoes. They are commonly classified as determinate or indeterminate. 

  • ​​​​​​Determinate: bush-type, bears a full crop of fruit all at once, grows to a specific height, and is good for container planting
  • Indeterminatevine-like, never top off, and continue producing fruits until frost

Planting: Tomatoes can be started by seed indoors 5-6 weeks before planting or bought as transplants.  Plant outdoors after the risk of frost has passed, water plants well before transplanting, and choose a location where other nightshade-family plants have not been grown within the past 3-4 years.  Plant as early as possible as North Carolina's hot summers can cause blossoms to drop before setting fruit.  Larger fruits like beefsteak tomatoes are harder to produce in NC for this reason.  Space plants 18-24 in apart.  Tomatoes will grow extra roots on portions of the stem that are under the soil; remove the lower set of leaves and bury the lower portion of the stem 2-3 in below the ground to increase root growth and plant vigor.  Tomatoes can also be grown in containers at a minimum of 5 gals and 1-2 ft deep, one plant per pot.

Tomatoes can be a lot of work, but the taste of a fresh tomato is hard to beat. To get started, you may want to consider a container, patio plants, or a small vegetable garden in your backyard. Tomatoes can be eaten fresh or frozen and canned for future use for making sauces, soups, or salsas. 

Seasons of interest:

Bloom: Summer and Fall           Fruits:  Summer and Fall  

Quick ID Hints:

  • erect or ascending with light to dark green tender stems with sticky dense hairs
  • alternate, densely hairy green compound leaves, 4 to 10 inches long with 5 to 9 leaflets, each leaflet 3 inches long with serrated margins
  • small yellow star-shaped, five-lobed flowers
  • the berry fruit is the tomato varying size, shape, and color depending on the variety or cultivar

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Tomatoes are susceptible to many pests including stink bugs, cutworms, tomato hornworms, tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage looper, whiteflies, tomato fruit worms, flea beetles, red spider mites, slugs, and the Colorado potato beetle.

Diseases include blights, blossom end-rot, Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, Tobacco mosaic virus, and bacterial and viral diseases. Cultivars can vary in their disease resistance. Many hybrids have been developed to improve disease resistance.

Cracking of the tomato fruit can occur due to uneven watering or uneven moisture from weather conditions. 

Additional Toxicology:  According to Dr. Anna Dulaney, Clinical Toxicologist and Assistant Director of Education for the Carolinas Poison Center, since their database began in 1997 there has been only one reference to a child having a reaction related to consuming tomato leaves or stems.  In that instance, the child made and consumed a "Pie" consisting of cedar wood chips, grass clippings, tomato leaves, and various other items.  That child vomited, but due to a large number of ingredients in the mixture, it is impossible to attribute the upset stomach to the consumption of tomato leaves.  She noted that in their database, the largest number of tomato leaves consumed at one time was 5 or 6 and that there were no ill effects. (This footnote inserted by Dr. Lucy Bradley, NC State Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist 10/26/2010)

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See this plant in the following landscapes:
Vegetable No-Till Garden Vegetable Garden- Containers Vegetable Garden- Raised Beds Vegetable No-Till Garden Vegetable Garden and Pollinator Plants
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beefmaster'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Better Boy'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt and root knot nematodes
  • 'Big Beef'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Big Boy'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Brandywine'
    Soft, juicy, slicing tomato; grows in yellow, red, or black
  • "Campari'
    Small, round, deep red, and juicy
  • 'Celebrity'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt and root knot nematodes
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Early Girl'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt
  • 'Fletcher'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • ‘German Johnson’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • ‘Homestead'
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Juliet'
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • ‘Marglobe’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Mountain Fresh'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Mountain Magic'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Mountain Pride'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Roma'
    Plum tomato, slender, firm, used for canning
  • 'Super Fantastic'
    Large, bright red, flavorful, strong disease resistance
  • ‘Super Sweet 100’
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • ‘Sweet Million’
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • 'Tiny Tim'
    Dwarf type, bright red cherry tomatoes, perfect patio plant
  • 'Yellow Pear'
    Teardrop shaped, sweet, yellow, best for salads
'Beefmaster', 'Better Boy', 'Big Beef', 'Big Boy', 'Brandywine', "Campari', 'Celebrity', ‘Cherokee Purple’, 'Early Girl', 'Fletcher', ‘German Johnson’, ‘Homestead', 'Juliet', ‘Marglobe’, 'Mountain Fresh', 'Mountain Magic', 'Mountain Pride', 'Roma', 'Super Fantastic', ‘Super Sweet 100’, ‘Sweet Million’, 'Tiny Tim', 'Yellow Pear'
Tags:
#cultivars#poisonous#full sun tolerant#annuals#summer annual#yellow flowers#showy fruits#summer flowers#vegetable garden#red fruits#edible fruits#vegetable#pollinator plant#edible garden#container vegetable garden#warm season vegetable#problem for cats#ebh-vh#ebh#problem for dogs#bee friendly#problem for horses#wilson mg plant sale 2021#container plant#vhfn#vhfn-v#early childhood
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Beefmaster'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Better Boy'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt and root knot nematodes
  • 'Big Beef'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Big Boy'
    Beefsteak tomato; adapted to southern heat
  • 'Brandywine'
    Soft, juicy, slicing tomato; grows in yellow, red, or black
  • "Campari'
    Small, round, deep red, and juicy
  • 'Celebrity'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt and root knot nematodes
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Early Girl'
    Reliable hybrid, resistant to fusarium wilt
  • 'Fletcher'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • ‘German Johnson’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • ‘Homestead'
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Juliet'
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • ‘Marglobe’
    Heirloom; grows well in NC's heat and humidity
  • 'Mountain Fresh'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Mountain Magic'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Mountain Pride'
    Developed by NC State; disease-resistant hybrid, adapted for NC conditions
  • 'Roma'
    Plum tomato, slender, firm, used for canning
  • 'Super Fantastic'
    Large, bright red, flavorful, strong disease resistance
  • ‘Super Sweet 100’
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • ‘Sweet Million’
    Cherry tomato; easy to grow
  • 'Tiny Tim'
    Dwarf type, bright red cherry tomatoes, perfect patio plant
  • 'Yellow Pear'
    Teardrop shaped, sweet, yellow, best for salads
'Beefmaster', 'Better Boy', 'Big Beef', 'Big Boy', 'Brandywine', "Campari', 'Celebrity', ‘Cherokee Purple’, 'Early Girl', 'Fletcher', ‘German Johnson’, ‘Homestead', 'Juliet', ‘Marglobe’, 'Mountain Fresh', 'Mountain Magic', 'Mountain Pride', 'Roma', 'Super Fantastic', ‘Super Sweet 100’, ‘Sweet Million’, 'Tiny Tim', 'Yellow Pear'
Tags:
#cultivars#poisonous#full sun tolerant#annuals#summer annual#yellow flowers#showy fruits#summer flowers#vegetable garden#red fruits#edible fruits#vegetable#pollinator plant#edible garden#container vegetable garden#warm season vegetable#problem for cats#ebh-vh#ebh#problem for dogs#bee friendly#problem for horses#wilson mg plant sale 2021#container plant#vhfn#vhfn-v#early childhood
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Solanum
    Species:
    lycopersicum
    Family:
    Solanaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The tomato was cultivated by the Inca Indians in 700 A.D. They were introduced to Europe in the 16th century. In the 1500s, many rich people thought the tomato was poisonous. They ate their food on pewter plates. The high acid content in the tomatoes caused the lead from the plates to leech into their food which caused lead poisoning and death. Poor people had wooden plates and suffered no ill effects; therefore, tomatoes were only eaten by the poor until the 1800s. The earliest recipe for ketchup appeared in 1818 and was developed by housewives in Maine. In the late 1800s, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the tomato was to be legally considered a vegetable instead of fruit. In the early 1900s, the nutritive value of tomatoes was recognized.
    Life Cycle:
    Annual
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Peru
    Distribution:
    Native: Peru; Introduced: Angola, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East European Russia, Ecuador, Fiji, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, New Zealand North, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rica, Taiwan, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkey, United States--AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NC, ND, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, and WI, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zaire, and Zimbabwe;
    Wildlife Value:
    The plant is pollinated by bees, especially bumblebees.
    Edibility:
    The fruits or berries of the tomato are edible. They may be eaten raw, cooked, dried, or processed. They are a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folic acid, and antioxidants. Lycopene is an antioxidant that gives the tomato its rich red color. Many plants will drop fruit when ripe or the fruit will come off easily. Tomatoes will continue to ripen once picked. Store them at room temperature.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 0 in. - 4 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Annual
    Edible
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Poisonous
    Vegetable
    Warm Season Vegetable
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Ascending
    Erect
    Multi-stemmed
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    High
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Orange
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Variegated
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are smooth, shiny, glossy, and are classified as berries. The size, shape, and color will vary depending on the variety or cultivar. The color of the fruits may be red, yellow, orange, green, purple, or pink. The fruits may contain over 100 yellow to light brown seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Raceme
    Solitary
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are yellow, star-shaped, five-petaled blooms with recurved petals in clusters of 3 to 12 blooms. Stamens are partially fused to the pistils.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Velvety
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Cordate
    Cuneate
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Lobed
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The green leaves are alternate, 4 to 10 inches long with 5 to 9 leaflets and each leaflet is 3 inches long with serrated or toothed margins. The leaf shape is ovate to lanceolate with cordate or cuneate base The surfaces are velvety, densely hairy, and strongly scented.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are tender, light to dark green, sticky, and hairy branches. They may be erect or sprawling.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Landscape Theme:
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Medium
    Poison Symptoms:
    Leaves and stems cause headaches, abdominal pain, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, severe gastrointestinal upset, circulatory and respiratory depression, and loss of sensation if eaten in large quantities.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Toxic alkaloid tomatine and solanine
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Stems