Tomato Vivipary: Learn About Seeds Germinating In A Tomato

By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

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. 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.

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What is the Lowest Temperature Tomato Plants Can Tolerate?

Every year, gardeners get excited to start their tomato plants, in the hopes of a great harvest. However, if the weather does not cooperate, a frost in late spring or early fall can damage your plants or fruit.

So, what is the lowest temperature tomato plants can tolerate? A temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below will result in frost that will kill unprotected tomato plants. A temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit will cause stunted growth, wilted leaves, and pitting of fruit. Any temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will lower pollen production. Any temperature below 55 degrees Fahrenheit will cause dropped flowers and decreased fruit quality.

Of course, there are some ways to protect your tomato plants from the cold, both at the start and the end of the growing season.

In this article, we’ll talk about how much cold tomato plants can tolerate, and how they are affected at different temperatures.

We’ll also look at ways to protect young tomato plants from spring frost and mature tomato plants from fall frost.

Are My Tomato's Seeds Sprouting - Information On Vivipary In Tomatoes - garden

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!

7 comments on “ Tomatoes seeds germinating inside the tomato! ”

It looks worse in a tomato.
An avocado tree in my mother’s garden produced avocados with roots dangling from them. The big fruit too so long to ripen that the seeds germinated first. The fruits were fine of course. They just looked silly.

An immaculate conception! Best wishes to you and Elodie for a wonderful holiday season. — Sherry

That’s crazy! I just had a couple tomatoes do that also! There must be some sort of natural trigger that made that happen to us at the same time. It’s happened to me a few times before, but I don’t recall what time of year it was. Note: from previous experience I can tell you that eating them that way isn’t pleasant, it’s not terrible either, but I wouldn’t purposely eat one that way again,

Actually it can happen when the tomato has been sitting out too long. Excerpt from the link in my post:
“Seeds contain a hormone that repress the germination process. This is a necessity, as it keeps the seeds from germinating when conditions aren’t favorable and missing their shot to become plants. But sometimes that hormone runs out, like when a tomato sits around on the counter for too long”

Can they be used to be planted please, will they be a poorer quality product ?

Well since they are inside the tomato, I’m not sure if you could take the sprouted seedling and transplant it into some soil mix. Not sure it would survive. AS far as if they would be poorer quality, I don’t know that either. Sorry.

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