Ask a Master Gardener: Sprouting tomato seeds

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I cut into this tomato the other day and thought it was wormy. Actually, the seeds inside the tomato were sprouting.

(Posted May 20, 2021)

Barbara J. Myers, Madison County Master Gardener

Have you ever cut into a tomato and found white squiggly-looking things inside? Those are not worms or aliens that made their way to the center, but rather tomato seeds that have started to germinate. This phenomenon–when seeds start growing while still inside or attached to the mother plant–is known as vivipary, Latin for “live birth.” 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. This warm, moist environment is perfect for germinating seeds to grow. If the tomato were left uncut in warm conditions, the new plant sprout would eventually poke through the skin of the now decomposing tomato.

These new plants can be potted where they will grow into a large tomato plants and even produce tomatoes. The tomato will not be a clone of the mother plant, because it grew from a seed that had to be pollinated by another tomato flower, introducing new parent genes into the seed that will produce the new plant. The tomatoes off of the plant are entirely edible and quite possibly delicious. Check out the seeds inside your fruit or vegetable the next time you slice into it.

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