Friday, January 14, 2011

Alien Tomatoes

My aunts have been sending me reports about their strange encounters with tomatoes over the past year. Last week they sent me a clipping from a gardening magazine where someone wrote in describing the same experience and furnishing me pictures. Auntie Kay asked me to put this up on the blog, because it's really weird and it's creeping them out.

It started last summer, when they bought fresh tomatoes from the grocery store. They were perfectly nice tomatoes, but after a while they started to notice something odd. The tomatoes started to develop strange bumps. What's more, the tomatoes themselves did not deteriorate as normal tomatoes do when they're not refrigerated. These looked bright red and shiny, with no sign of decay or wilting. The letter to the editor they sent me reported the same phenomenon; the tomato was put on a counter to ripen, but it seemed almost to have an "anti-aging" characteristic and ripened very slowly. Also
I noticed that the tomato had multiple little "pimple-like" bumps on its surface. Some of the bumps seemed to have a "tail-like" appendage which "travelled" under the skin surface of the tomato.

When my aunts finally cut open the tomato, they found that the seeds inside had actually sprouted and the inside of the tomato was a mass of sprouts! It was really disgusting - rather like the creature in "Alien" germinating inside the guy's stomach then bursting out.

They tried scooping out the mess inside and just eating the shell of the tomato (which still looked very shiny and appetizing) but Auntie said the tomato didn't taste like a tomato at all: it tasted like HAY.

This has happened to a couple of tomatoes they've bought recently, and when they brought the tomatoes back to the grocery store the people there were baffled. These aren't some rare variety, and they must have bought them from regular suppliers, but they're complete mutant tomatoes. I wonder if this might not be a case of genetic engineering, which we've been hearing so much about. The tomatoes do have a characteristic that would make them desirable: they're much less perishable than standard tomatoes. I can see why someone might want to breed for that trait, but this side effect is just bizarre (not to mention the tomatoes LOOK good but taste terrible)!

I've found very little online about this. A year ago there were a few posts on gardening boards from people who experienced the same thing, but it seems to be a rather rare occurrence (not for my Aunts, though; it's happened a few times to them). Has anyone else experienced anything like this?

UPDATE: I've tried to find more information on this sprouting tomato phenomenon, and I did find this plus a few other discussions on gardening boards. Opinion is divided on whether it's a question of genetics or chemical additive. Some say it's normal for seeds to germinate inside tomatoes, others say it should be impossible. But I can't help but notice that all of the incidents being discussed are recent - within the past 4 years, it seems. Surely, if this is normal behavior, people should be able to point to older incidents? I mean, think of the decades and decades of tomato-growing history that we can look back on, just in our own lifetimes; why wouldn't there be anecdotal evidence going back a century on this?


Blogger Priscilla said...

I remember this movie from somewhere in the past:
And then there is this one from - well, who knows:
I believe that they must have been sprayed with a retardant that preserves the outside skin but allows the seeds inside to sprout in a nice moist medium.
Definitely weird. I wouldn't eat it. Unless you are intending to self-mummify.

10:53 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

That could be it. I suppose if there are cases of home gardeners growing tomatoes like this in their gardens, then we'd know it must be some sort of mutant strain. But an additive to delay aging so they can be shipped would certainly make sense - we know growers and retailers do this sort of thing, so maybe some tomatoes got a bit of an overdose and reacted weirdly.

But sprouting tomato seeds are not that common. I know every year I get some stray tomatoes coming up from the compost or just right out of the garden, where tomatoes fell in the fall, but it's always the cherry tomatoes that do that, never the big ones. I suppose cherry tomato plants must be a bit more "weed-like" and can survive the winter better. How this can happen in a tomato that hasn't gone through a normal life cycle, with seeds that haven't aged or gone through dormancy or whatever they do, is just beyond me.

6:58 pm  
Blogger Sue Martinez said...

In Southern California, seasonal fruit does ripen and sprout unseasonaly. Volunteer cherry tomatoes are common, but I've also had Better Boys do the same, and last summer's plants are still producing, albeit slowly. As for seeds sprouting inside the fruit, if I leave a lemon on the tree too long, the seeds sprout inside, but it doesn't seem to affect the flavor.

1:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in central Pennsylvania; and I've encountered the same phenomena in tomotoes we purchased this past summer. You'd cut them open, and find sprouts growing inside of the fruit.

<>< Ron Troup;

8:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't eat a tomato that had sprouted. While tomatoes aren't toxic, tomato plants are toxic. They, like potatoes are in the deadly nightshade family. This is just too bizarre for words.. the gel like substance around the seeds inside a tomato normally retard seed sprouting, this isn't supposed to happen. Can't help but wonder if this is an example of what all that GM tampering is bringing about.

9:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Finland and bought some tomatoes in the store just a couple of weeks ago. I had the same thing happen to my tomatoes. I have never seen anything like it before and nobody here that I have spoken to has ever seen anything like it either. Definitely weird. I have given one tomato to a gardener who has apparently sent it off somewhere for further inspection. I will let you know if I have any further news.

As you say, if this is "normal", why does nobody seem to know anything about it??

2:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very late to the discussion here, so don't know if anyone will see this. I had the same experience with a couple of tomatoes and decided to save the sprouts and plant them. I now have 14 normal looking and healthy tomato seedlings. Am hoping to plant them outside when the time is right and looking forward to see whether or not they will produce fruit. Have seen many posts about this and the most common explanation seems to be that the tomatoes were probably held in cold storage a long time, allowing the gel, which would normally protect the seed from sprouting, to disolve. And also the temp of storage may have something to do with it. So basically what you have said here, but not as uncommon as I thought when I first saw mine, and not a sign of some GM monster like I originally thought. :) Anyway, it's been our late winter entertainment, watching them grow and looking forward to seeing what happens with them.

8:00 pm  
Blogger Swanky Mama said...

So I myself, just cut into my tomato to find sprouts!!!!! Yeah I cleaned it out, then ate what I could... My tomato was bought from Tj's. About 2 weeks ago. Still looked great, just slightly soft... The taste was pretty bland..... This tomato didn't have any fuzz, stink, or bruising. ... Strange:)

6:27 pm  
Anonymous Patch said...

The one time I've seen it was 12 years ago when I was living in Kansas. :) Probably all the discussion about the phenomenon online being in the last 4 years is due to the rising number of people using gardening forums and such.

11:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's an GMO. Designed to have a longer shelf life, in turn altering the reproductive system of the fruit. I just recently threw my tomato away after keeping it for 4 weeks, it too sprouted heavely. It's not natural.
What's GMO products doing to us after long term consumption?

4:11 am  
Blogger sramsey1 said...

May I have permission to use one of your sprouting tomato photos in a garden column I have written?

11:19 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

They're not mine, I found them online. My aunts don't have a computer, so they couldn't actually send me any pictures of their weird tomatoes. Based on their descriptions, I went looking for pictures that I could show them to get an idea of what they were looking at. Then I sent them the articles to explain what was causing the strange sprouting phenomenon.

6:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just found my first sprouting tomato, very strange indeed. i don t think this is normal.i grew up with a tomato garden and even fallen rotten tomatoes never did this. i presume genetic manipulation!gross!

3:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I don't think it has anything to do with genetic mutations or chemicals really. The covering of the tomato is supposed to protect the seeds and in return the seeds are able to sprout because of that. In other words if it comes into a condition where the seeds are able to sprout, it wouldn't matter if the tomato was intact or not as the sprouts would only use it as fertilizer of sorts since the purpose of the fruit flesh of the plant is to support the seeds. And seedlings should have the ability to push out, it is a common phenomenon actually, if you've seen things like tree roots warping cement.

2:52 pm  
Blogger DiamondFire said...

11/8/2013 Crystal River, Fl
I purchased a tomato at a local grocery that began sprouting at room temperature after a few days.
The label shows it to be a "Magic Sun" 4664-Product of Mexico. I have pictures that I am willing to share albeit the leaves are not yet as well developed as those shown here. Most concerning to me is that while tomato is not poison the plant itself, a member of the nightshade family, is not edible. I will not be buying any more tomatoes from Mexico --not eating this one --undecided whether or not to try growing the plants.

12:08 pm  
Blogger DiamondFire said...

11-8-2013 Crystal River, Fl
I purchased a tomato at a local grocery that is sprouting at room temperature. It is a "Magic Sun" 4664 - Product of Mexico. It is
performing exactly as described here and looks the same as the picture shown except the leaves have not developed to the same extent. I have pictures I am willing to share.

12:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have tomatoes that are sprouting on my counter, also "
Magic Sun 4664 Product of Mexico.", which is what I googled to find this forum.

2:54 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

My vine tomatoes sprouted yesterday too! Red Sun 4664 Product of Mexico.

3:53 pm  
Anonymous DiamondFire said...

Shannon - if you are going to eat it remember tomato plants are not good for people ---just the fruit.

7:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is something with the Magic Sun 4664 product of Mexico tomatoes. I have a cluster of 4 of them I bought at the local grocery and they are all starting to erupt with sprouts. Think I'll attempt to grow them as we're just a few weeks from early planting season in Dallas.

3:19 am  
Blogger Darren Abbey, PhD said...

It is a side effect of breeding tomatoes for market-production.

There is a trait called "ripening-inhibition" or "rin" that prevents the fruit from ripening normally. This has been bred into production tomatoes because it makes the fruit stay hard longer for shipping and storage.

The fruit is treated with ethylene (a normal/natural plant hormone) to induce it to start turning red.

If the tomato has been kept in storage too long before being prepared for sale, the germination-inhibitors in the fruit will break down, allowing the seeds to germinate. Normally, the fruit would have softened and decayed away by this time and you wouldn't see this.

I've got a blog post discussing the evolution of the market tomato (, but I didn't think to discuss this particular side-effect.

1:32 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:35 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:27 pm  
Blogger B.D.Bronco said...

I picked some lemons from a tree from my in-laws home in Southern California (these were softball sized lemons) and when I cut them open some had sprouts inside. I had never seen that but i thought nothing of it and made lemonade. it tasted like rotten grass.

12:52 pm  
Blogger vegiegardengirl said...

Weird….I've had this happen with apples before but not tomatoes. It may have something to do with treatment and cold storage to increase shelf life of the produce. I'd say grow your own tomatoes if you have the space :) It would be interesting if any of those sprouts would actually grow into a full size producing plant. Has anyone tried this?

9:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just cut a tomato open this week and it was filled with sprouts. I have scooped them out and planted in plastic cups with dirt. I ate the outside- it was fine in a BLT- no rot whatsoever.

2:27 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just noticed that my tomatoes were growing sprouts this morning. Doing some research using Google show that this process is called vivipary which, in Latin, means live birth. You can read up on this information at the following link:

4:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this is not mother nature. This is a result of the GMO experimenting that the government has been doing on us for the last 10 years or so. I have been growing all types of tomatoes for the last 45 years and have never seen anything like this. I found this last week from some tomatoes that were purchased at Wall Mart. I will never buy any more tomatoes from WM again. The government has approved GMO foods for the US. But all of the other countries have banned any GMO foods and will not allow them to be imported from the US. We are guinea pigs in the UNITED STATES!!

1:00 am  
Blogger Sheree said...

As a farm girl and now a 60 year old, I never ever saw one of these sprouting mutant tomatoes come out of our garden. I don't see them in farmers markets either. But I have run across them several times in store-bought tomatoes over the past year. They turn my stomach. Something is definitely amiss here. They are #frankentomatoes.

12:50 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I came to know about these tomatoes today via a FB group as someone posted a photo of this tomato. This is a natural phenomenon and called Viviparous germination of seeds. It was first discovered in Maize and later in wheat especially white wheat as it ruins the crop (it happens if you get rains during harvesting period and occurs quite often in EU). The reason they do that is that the seeds have less dormancy due to the low levels of the dormancy causing plant hormone ABA in the seeds perhaps due to mutation. Companies normally try to breed the opposite- more dormant so that they have long shelf life during transport. I am a plant scientist

6:29 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I normally do not refrigerate my tomatoes. I leave on the counter and use as needed. The riposte tomatoes go into cooked dishes and the firmer ones are for slicing. I discovered a large tomato on my counter sprouting through its skin. Never had this happen before but was curious and wanted to place the whole tomato in a pot of soil. Not sure what to do. Perhaps after investigating this phenomenon I may just throw it out!

11:11 pm  

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