Everglades tomatoes: Tiny wonders
Imagine a self-seeding bush that produces tiny, sweet tomatoes all year long. Now imagine this bush is disease and pest resistant, requires little care and thrives in our hot, humid climate.
If this sounds too good to be true, you haven’t discovered the wild Everglades tomato. This berry-sized tomato, sometimes called a currant tomato, is originally from Peru and Ecuador and is now a Florida Friendly favorite.
While difficult to find in their native lands, Everglades tomatoes, Solanum pimpinellifolium, are sought after for their importance in the botanical world (Esta-brook, 2015). They are the descendants to the ancestors of the wild tomato from which our domestic tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, was cultivated. Everglades tomatoes carry the ancestral genetic code that resists pests, diseases and improves their chances of survival in our local climate. Scientists are using the genetic code of these tiny tomatoes to strengthen our cultivated tomatoes and enhance the flavor that has been lost to the competing demands of modern-day market forces such as “high yield, size, shelf life, and ability to transport well” (Leonard-Mularz, 2020).
While other tomatoes can’t tolerate our Zone 10 heat and humidity, this plant flourishes. It is not fussy about soil composition and is salt and drought tolerant. Plant it in full sun with moderate watering and it will spread to about four feet wide. It can be trellised or allowed to sprawl.
Unfortunately, these plants are not typically available at your local nursery, but seeds can be found from multiple Internet sites. It is not uncommon, however, to get your first plant from a fellow gardener. Once you have one plant, this self-seeding, indeterminate plant will propagate on its own or with the help of birds, giving you sweet tomatoes throughout the year.
These thin-skinned tomatoes are somewhat fragile and require a gentle touch when harvesting. Pulling roughly from the vine can break the skin. Despite their delicate nature, they are perfect for making bruschetta, adding to a salad or simply with a bit of olive oil, basil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
One important tip to remember when planting any tomato is to transplant tomato seedlings deep into the soil covering the first two leaves known as the seed leaves or cotyledons. Seed leaves are the first leaves to emerge from a seed and provide nutrition for the emer-ging seedling during germination. The next pair of leaves are true leaves. Planting seedlings deeply, at least to the true leaves, helps strengthen the stems and encourage root growth.
With little care, Everglades tomatoes will be a year-round sensation at your table while contributing to the sustainability of the ancestral genetic code so important to today’s tomatoes.
Happy gardening & bon appétit
Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com
Estabrook, B. (2015, July 23). Why Is This Wild, Pea-Sized Tomato So Important? Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/why-wild-tiny-pimp-tomato-so-important-180955911/
Leonard-Mularz, M. (2020, April 21). Everglades Tomato-A Summer Tomato for the Keys. UF/IFAS Extension Monroe County. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/monroeco/2020/04/20/everglades-tomato-a-summer-tomato-for-the-keys/