While planning an Early Florida Settlers’ Garden for the museum where I work, we came across something called Everglades Tomato (Solanum pimpinellifolium) that we’d never heard of before. A friend gave us a few of these small grape-sized tomatoes with the instructions: “Squish them up and bury them in a little soil. That’s all you have to do.” Boy, was she right – it was that easy!
These little tomato seeds sprouted in days. We divided them into small pots to give them a little more time to establish, then transplanted them to the garden in about 2 weeks. From there, with water a few times a week and plenty of sunshine, these quickly grew into sprawling plants covered in yellow blooms, followed by small tomatoes perfect for snacking on right from the vine.
Everglades Tomato is a bit of a mystery. Some people believe it is native to the Florida Everglades. Others say it escaped cultivation early in the days of Florida’s Spanish settlement, or that Native Americans brought it here from other locations. Regardless of the origins, there’s no doubt this tomato grows happily in Florida’s toughest conditions, all year round. If it can survive and thrive in both winter and summer here, I know it will grow in backyard vegetable gardens just about anywhere. Though some sites list it as zones 8 – 11, these start growing and producing fruit so quickly that you should be able to grow it every year as an annual tomato plant up north.
This is truly the tomato for people who think they can’t grow tomatoes. (Trust me… I am one of those people!) Some folks caution that this plant can get out of hand, so you may want to try it in a raised bed. We’re growing ours in compost mixed with potting soil, and it could not be happier. You can find seeds for sale on the internet, or if you happen to know someone who’s growing it, ask for a tomato or two to drop in some potting soil. You can also start it from cuttings – it’s said to be as easy as “cut a branch, stick in the ground, and keep it watered”. You can let it sprawl far and wide if you have the space, or train it up a trellis or tomato cage support.
Do you have any experience with this plant? Tell us about it in the comments. Want to talk about backyard vegetable gardens with other gardeners? Visit our Community and join in the conversation!