Potatoes Grow Tomatoes?
Many Indiana gardeners are experiencing a new phenomenon in their potato
patch. At least, it's new to them. Potato plants appear to be producing
little green fruit, about the size of a large cherry tomato.
These round, green berries are actually the fruits of the potato plant.
It's not surprising that they look like tomatoes, since both plants are
in the nightshade family.
Most gardeners never see this fruit form on potatoes in Indiana. Cool
temperatures during long days tend to promote fruiting in potatoes, which
explains the increase in potato fruit this year. Until recently, most
of Indiana experienced prolonged, cool springs. Also, some cultivars seem
more prone to fruit formation than others. So some potatoes may be fruiting
while others growing nearby may not.
Plant breeders tend to locate potato fields in cooler climates, such
as Idaho and Wisconsin, to facilitate hybridization and fruit production.
The seeds that form inside the fruit as it ripens are then grown out to
evaluate the new plant.
For production of the tubers that we eat, a particular hybrid that has
disease-resistance or high yields is propagated through pieces of the
underground tubers. This type of propagation assures that those desired
qualities of the hybrid are preserved, since hybrid plants rarely reproduce
true from seed.
Gardeners could harvest the seed from the fruit as it matures and raise
the seeds for next year's garden as a novelty. But, in general, it is
much easier to raise a crop from tubers than from true seed. Also, the
resulting plants may not be as desirable as those grown from the tubers
this year. Be prepared to start the seeds indoors in winter, as plants
are much slower to develop from seed than from tubers.
Do keep in mind that potato fruits are likely to be high in solanine,
a substance that is toxic to humans, particularly children. Potato fruits
should not be eaten, no matter how much they look like tomatoes!