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Searcy, Ark. –
Our office has received some curious calls lately. Gardeners have been surprised this
year to find fruit produced on tops of their potato plants. Folks are surprised to
see plants resembling cherry tomatoes come up where they planted potatoes.
Some have seen the small, tomato-like blossoms and now we’re receiving questions from
a few people who are noticing the fruit that looks like green cherry tomatoes at the
top of the plants.
Here’s the low down on this phenomenon.
Potatoes belong to a small family, the Nightshade or Solanaceous family. The other
members are tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Potatoes resemble tomatoes more than
the other family members and often share the same disease and insects. Occasionally,
you will see ads in garden magazines for a grafted tomato-potato plant “TomTato”,
that produces tomatoes on the top and potatoes in the soil. This grafted plant does
not produce many of either. It’s considered a novelty plant.
However, I’m not referring to the grafted plants in this article. I’m discussing fruits
growing at the top of a potato plant that naturally occurred. Potato flowers and fruit
are produced because potatoes multiply by seed. The edible part of the potato plant
is a tuber connected to the roots of the plant. While you can cut up the potato into
plantable chunks and get more potatoes, the tubers themselves are not seeds, even
though the ones you plant are called seed potatoes. The true seeds of the plant appear
only rarely, in round, green seed pods. It shouldn't be surprising that these seed
pods look like tomatoes because potatoes and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are members
of the same plant family. Potato flowers look very much like tomato flowers except
instead of being yellow, the potato flowers can be white or lavender or pink. It depends
on the type of potato as to the flower color.
Typically those blooms are aborted and never have the opportunity to go from flower
to fruit. The weather conditions have allowed the flowers to remain, pollinate and
grow into small potato fruit. These look like small, round or oblong cherry tomatoes
and usually appear in clusters. Those round seed pods are also called potato fruit,
potato berries and seed balls. The interior of a seed pod has up to 500 tiny seeds
distributed throughout a mass of moist tissue.
Using potato seeds instead of seed potatoes is comparable to fruit tree growers using
fruit seeds to grow trees instead of grafting scions onto rootstock. Seed potatoes
give you potatoes that have the desirable qualities of specific varieties, while potato
seeds provide us with potential new varieties but let the professionals handle that.
These potato fruits are not edible. In fact, they are poisonous. They contain high amounts of solanine that can make a person very ill. Solanine is
also found in potatoes that are dug, left in the sun and the skin turns green. Besides
being very bitter, eating plant parts containing solanine can lead to headache, abdominal
pain, shock and diarrhea. If you’re growing potatoes in an area that small children
can get into, and these fruits appear on your potato plants, keep kids out of the
area until the potatoes are harvested or discard the potato fruit.
If you saved the ripe seeds inside the potato fruit, you would not get the same kind
of potatoes as the parent plant. It would take several years to grow these to a size
that you could harvest. The only people saving, and planting potato seeds are growers
and breeders who are hoping to produce a new variety of potato. My advice is let them
The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal
access/affirmative action institution.
By Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143 (501) 268-5394 email@example.com
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay. The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons
regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin,
religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any
other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.