When Seeds Sprout Inside a Tomato

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Tomatoes with seeds germinating inside. Photo: Ginette Fontaine

I’d like to know if you’ve ever seen tomatoes with sprouts inside? These are tomatoes shipped from Mexico that I bought in a local supermarket.

Ginette Fontaine

This is a relatively rare but not unknown phenomenon called vivipary and it occurs not only in store-bought tomatoes, but also in home-grown tomatoes, plus it can be seen in other fruits, such as apples, avocados, grapefruits, melons, peppers, squashes, etc. Even so, the tomato is the fruit most likely to give viviparous seedlings.

When some people see this, they often assume that the fruit is wormy, but the thin “worms” are actually tomato seedlings. In more extreme cases, the seedlings actually pierce the fruit’s skin, giving a tomato covered in green sprouts… and in nature, such fruits fall to the ground and give rise to new tomato plants!

What’s Happening?

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Viviparous tomato. Photo: mykhal, Wikimedia Commons

Vivipary is generally seen in over-ripe or even rotting tomatoes that have been kept under warm conditions… and certain tomato cultivars are more prone to it than others.

Normally the presence in the fruit of a hormone called abscisic acid prevents the seeds it contains from germinating, but the hormone begins to decrease in overripe fruit. When it has almost disappeared, germination can start.

You can easily “save” these seedlings by potting them up, then transplanting them into the garden when summer comes around. In this particular case, it’s a bit early for most gardeners to be starting tomatoes indoors (the photo reached me in early March), but even a tomato plant that is overgrown and weak because it has spent too much time indoors can recuperate once planted outdoors and still produce a decent crop.


Nature is full of surprises: this is just one more!

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