Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Vegetables

The World’s Smallest Tomato Plant

20160729A
‘Micro Tom’ tomato in Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s vegetable bed.

I was surprised to see a teeny tiny tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum) in the vegetable garden at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts in early July 2016. I’d never seen one so small, and yet it was full of tiny little green fruits. The label said ‘Micro Tom’. I took a few shots, then did some research when I got home.

A Bit of History

Turns out it’s nothing new: ‘Micro Tom’ was developed by the University of Florida and released in 1989. For a gardener like myself who has his nose in multiple seed catalogs each spring, I was a bit shocked I’d never heard of it, but then I checked my usual seed catalogs and none of them carried it.

It was originally developed for use in scientific experiments: with its extremely small size (it does not exceed 8 inches/20 cm diameter or height at maturity and the ones I saw in Tower Hill Botanical Garden were only 4 inches/10 cm high and 6 inches/15 cm in diameter (I have a handy measuring tape app on my cell phone!). You can see where such a small size would be handy if you’re doing experiments where greenhouse space is limited.

As for the average gardener, ‘Micro Tom’ is offered in seed catalogs as “as an ideal houseplant.”

Description

20160729BThe plant is characterized by small and often distorted leaves with fewer lobes than larger tomatoes. The stems have very short internodes, so the leaves seem to pile up one on top of the other. You only need a 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) pot to produce up to 30 small round red tomatoes that ripen in about 120 days (some 88 days after transplanting). I have yet to taste one, but if I can trust comments on the Web, they are “tomatoey” in flavor, but not as sugary as most cherry tomatoes. The plant is determinate (read The Tall and Short of Tomatoes for an explanation of that term), so all the fruits ripen at about the same time.

Not a GMO!

And no, this plant is not a genetically modified organism. It just inherited two genes known to cause dwarfism in tomatoes. It is essentially the chihuahua of cherry tomatoes!

How to Use It?
So far, so good, but other than surprising neighbors and visitors with a tiny little tomato plant, why in the world would you want to grow ‘Micro Tom’ tomatoes?

Certainly it’s not a garden variety of tomato: you wouldn’t plant it in order to feed your family, not when just about any other tomato variety would give you much more fruit.

It could be used as an intriguing border plant for a vegetable garden or be used in places where space is at a premium, such as on a balcony or in small hanging baskets.

And you could grow it as a houseplant if you sow it in the spring for a summer harvest. (Natural light in most homes would probably be insufficient for a winter crop.) As it is very low growing and thus fits well under lights, you could also raise it at any time of the year under fluorescent or LED lights, making sure the plant receives long days.

Or just give in to your impulsion and grow it because it is so darn cute!

Sources

Here are two sources for seeds of this mini-tomato:

Urban Farmer
Seedman.com

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “The World’s Smallest Tomato Plant

  1. Michael McConnell

    I am very surprised as you were to be informed by your site that these little cuties have been around for some time.
    I just discovered them last year 2023 and saved some seeds and am well on my way to being over run in a heavenly host of mini tomato plants. I saved a ton of money growing them from seed and I am so proud of the way they are developing and producing fruit. I was so excited to discover these glorious little wonders because I have only a small balcony and not much light and hearing them called kitchen minis told me that they would serve my itchy green thumb very well.
    The Verity that I have grow to 18 inches tall and fill out so well in a very tight space.
    The only question I had was if they were a GMO Verity and you answered that question for me and I thank you. Sometimes mother nature can out smart us and return an altered organism back to its original state but since they are a natural phenomena I can continue to harvest the best seeds of my choice plants and continue on to the next year. I absolutely love tomato Vines and I may have found my glory. I’m in my 60’s and gardening is my summer love.
    This Gentleman thanks you for your website and I look forward to your newsletter as I was pleased to subscribe.
    Keep that thumb Green and happy trails from short summer Ontario Canada.

    • Mathieu Hodgson

      Thanks for your comments! The Micro Tom tomato is not a GMO.

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