Tomatoes with Potato Leaves

The leaf of a potato leaf tomato. Photo: xwildflowers,

Question (from April 2019): A strange phenomenon occurred in my light garden. I sowed seeds of a heritage tomato called ‘Matina’ I picked up at a seed exchange and instead of tomato plants, potatoes came up. Does this mean the plant is a cross between a potato and a tomato? I know that potato fruits are poisonous, so will the fruits be poisonous or edible?

M. Carrington

Answer: Your question threw me a first. I was about to answer that potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and tomatoes (S. lycopersicum) don’t cross, even though they are both in the same genus, and that there had probably been a mix up at the seed suppliers. However, then I thought, isn’t ‘Matina’ one of “those” tomatoes? I’m referring to so-called potato leaf tomatoes. 

A normal tomato leaf has numerous, deeply serrated leaflets. Photo:

Yes, not all tomatoes have the leaves with the multiple, deeply serrated lobes we’re used to. Some produce leaves with broader, smooth-edged and thicker leaves, often darker green as well, called potato leaves. Obviously, they aren’t potato plants, they just have leaves that look like potato leaves. ‘Matina’ is one of those tomatoes.

They’re not even such a rare phenomenon. Some very popular tomatoes, like ‘Stupice’ and ‘Brandywine’ are potato leaf varieties. I even found a web site that lists hundreds of potato leaf varieties: Tatiana’s Tomatobase

Potato beetles aren’t attracted to potato leaf

And don’t worry that your “tomato that looks like a potato” will attract Colorado potato beetles (potato bugs). Its leaves may look like potato leaves to us, but they smell like tomato leaves and potato bugs are attracted by the odor of the leaf, not its appearance. They can smell a potato plant from nearly a half a mile (800 m) away, but aren’t attracted to tomato plants.

So, just plant your potato leaf ‘Matina’ tomatoes and enjoy their fruit: they won’t be poisonous.

The potato leaf gene is recessive: the plant has to inherit one from each parent for it to have potato leaves. If your plant self-pollinates, its seeds will have two copies of the gene and will produce plants with potato leaves. If ever it cross pollinates with a regular leaf tomato, it will likely produce tomatoes with regular tomato leaves.

Laidback Gardener

‘Matina’ tomatoes. Photo: sanhoc,

Response (from October 2019)I did as you said and planted out my ‘Matina’ tomatoes and they were a huge success: the earliest tomatoes in my garden, yet they produced trusses of smallish, juicy, very tasty red fruits over the entire summer and well into fall. I’m very satisfied with the results. 

M. Carrington

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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