By Ralph E. Mitchell
If tiny tomatoes smaller than the classic cherry tomato are of interest, then Everglades tomatoes may be what you are looking for! Apparently this wild tomato has worked its way into our summer vegetables gardens and onto our plates. I grew one this spring and was surprised by the results!
I obtained a single plant from a Master Gardener volunteer who was passing extra seedlings out to interested individuals. That one plant grow into a massive sprawling bush about four feet wide and over six feet long. Growing to several feet tall before it flopped over, my attempts to confine it to a single support stake failed as it overtook one large spot in garden. Then it began to produce in abundance – lots of tiny (dime-sized), rich-flavored fruit. The skin is very tender and I squished many as I tried to pick these tomato pearls with my sausage fingers. Beyond a few tomato hornworms and something eating a few fruits at night, this tomato out-performed itself. In other words, I could not keep up with it!
An interesting fact about the Everglades tomato is that it is a different species than our normal garden variety types. While we normally grow Solanum lycopersicum, the Everglades tomato is Solanum pimpinellifolium, a wild type ancestor originating from Ecuador and Peru. More commonly called a currant tomato due to its small size, this species is very durable and indeterminate – it grows at least twelve feet long/tall.
The Everglades tomato will hybridize with other species and is considered important in tomato breeding for disease resistance. Otherwise, it has naturalized in places outside its range including the Galápagos Islands and Florida. You cannot find the seeds or plants at most local garden centers, but they can be found with an Internet search at specialty seed companies. Propagation can also be performed with rooted cuttings directly from the plant.
I found the Everglades tomato to be a gardening experiment I always wanted to try. I was successful (perhaps too successful), but would recommend this tiny treasure for its unique nature in growth, production and flavor. It is fun to experiment with new edibles, especially ones that can take the summer heat! Add Everglades tomatoes to your summer garden wish list! For more information on all types of vegetables that can be grown during our challenging summers, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/charlotte/docs/pdf/Plant-Clinics-Schedule1.pdf. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com.
Setzer, K. ( 2014) Wild ‘Everglades’ Tomato is Ideal For South Florida Gardens. Fairchild Botanic Garden – Miami Herald Article.
Slatner, K. (2014) Wild Florida Everglades Tomato. Master Gardener Landscaping of Fort Lauderdale. http://mgonline.com/articles/tomato.aspx
Coudal, N. (2016) Tiny Everglades Tomato is Nonetheless Big On Taste. Farm, Featured, Food – http://floridafoodandfarm.com/featured/tiny-everglades-tomato-is-nonetheless-big-on-taste/
Wikipedia, Solanum pimpinellifolium https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanum_pimpinellifolium