A reader sent me the photo above … after she had ordered the seed, unfortunately. She wanted to know if it was really true that she’d be getting such colorful tomatoes from what is being sold as “rainbow tomato seeds.” Unfortunately, no.
Thanks to Photoshop, it’s child’s play to change colors in photos. You can turn an elephant pure pink, a flamingo bright green … or tomatoes individual Crayola colors.
This is often done with plants to stimulate sales. Even fairly reputable plant catalogs seem to have no qualms about enhancing the photos of their product … to a certain point. Example: “pink” narcissus that are bright pink instead of the salmon shades they really come in. (See Faked Photos Indicate an Unreliable Catalog.) But no even not-quite reputable catalog would go as far as “painting” individual tomatoes designer colors: most they still have some decency!
What Did You Actually Buy?
Companies that sell seeds on the Internet using obviously unreal photos are generally fly-by-night operations: here today, gone tomorrow. Let’s hope they at least send you something, preferably viable seeds … and preferably viable tomato seeds!
Assuming they do send you real tomato seeds, what can you expect? If they want to keep up the “rainbow” end of the bargain, you’ll probably only have received mixed seeds including tomatoes of various colors … and there really are red, pink, orange, yellow, green, “white,” “purple,” “blue” and “black” tomatoes. (The colors in quotations are not going to actually be the pure color, but a vague approximation. There are no truly white, purple, blue or black tomatoes.)
There will certainly not be half a dozen colors on the same plant: most tomatoes will mature from medium green to light green to their final single color, whatever that is, so there will be more than one color on the plant at once. Also, the so-called blue or purple tomatoes are essentially red ones that take on a purplish or bluish overlay on the parts exposed to the sun, so you could count that as a fourth color. However, the seed blend may well include seeds of red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and green tomatoes, for example. At least that would honestly give you “rainbow tomatoes,” even if the colors were absolutely nothing like those in the photo.
I see another possibility too. Perhaps they’ll send seeds of ‘Big Rainbow’, an heirloom tomato variety with multicoloured fruit. Of course, its colours are not really rainbowlike, being mainly orange, red and pink. Nor does this big beefsteak type tomato look anything like the cherry tomatoes in the photo at the start of this article, but it could be a way for the salesperson to legitimately claim they had sent you rainbow tomato seeds.
Lessons to Be Learned
So, what lesson—indeed, lessons!—can we learn from this case?
First, that there are plenty of scam artists out there using faked photos of vegetables, fruits and flowers to bilk you out of your money. In the past, I’ve covered in this blog other gardening ripoffs that involve seeds that don’t deliver the goods, such as black strawberries, rainbow roses and cubic watermelons, but there are many others.
This is easy to fix: only order seed from reputable seed companies!
Secondly, and most importantly: If it doesn’t look real, it probably isn’t!