Vegetables

Tomatoes with Potato Leaves

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

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: veggies-only.blogspot.com

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 tomatoes.greenlawnfertilizing.com

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, amazon.ca

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. 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 has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening 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 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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