Vegetables

Strangler Tomato!

Twining petiole on a tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum). Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

I just noticed the oddest phenomenon on one of my tomato plants (All-America Selections Winner grape tomato ‘Celano’). One of its petioles* has wrapped itself around the wire of my tomato cage. Not just a sort of lazy, accidental twist, but a thorough wrap around … and it’s a tight cling. Obviously, this leaf has no intention of letting go of its support!  

*Actually, to be perfectly correct, it is a “petiolule” that’s doing the clasping, since it’s not the leaf’s main petiole, but a secondary one, attached to a leaflet.

Now, tomatoes are essentially climbing plants, as anyone growing an indeterminate tomato can confirm, but they’re usually considered scramblers: in nature, they lean on other plants and mix with their host’s stems in order to hoist themselves up. Gardeners usually tie them to a stake or let them ramble in and out of a tomato cage. I’d never heard of one with twining petioles, nor had I ever seen one. Until now! 

The potato vine (Solanum laxa) sometimes produces twining petioles. Photo: Sandra Knapp, A Revision of the Dulcamaroid Clade of Solanum

I was unable to find any other twining petioles on that tomato plant nor on any of my other tomato plants. However, the “twining petiole” phenomenon is not unknown among the tomato’s relatives (the nightshade or Solanaceae family). Its cousin the potato vine (Solanum jasminoides, now S. laxa), sometimes also produces twining petioles. 

Clematis are experts at climbing using twining petioles. Photo: Clematis virginiana wildflowergardener.wordpress.com

Of course, clematis (Clematis spp.) which are not related to tomatoes, are well known for their twining petioles and a few other plants, like climbing ferns (Lygodium spp.), produce them as well, although it’s a fairly rare phenomenon. 

Twining petioles on tomatoes are apparently something extremely unusual. Have any of you see a twining petiole on your tomato plants?

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.

8 comments on “Strangler Tomato!

  1. I’ve seen this with my black cherry tomatoes last year. They grew to be 8 feet tall plus. Biggest tomato plants I have ever seen or grown. And they spread their seeds everywhere in my garden and we’ve been weeding them out this season like crazy. Which is a bit shocking because there was just a few on the vine at the end of the year, that got hit with frost. And I live in zone 6 , so how the seeds made it through the winter, with temps below freezing and below zero at the coldest time, is beyond me. One of them had a few little tendrils here and there that were latching onto what they could , including the plants next to it.

  2. This is very interesting. Had never heard of this behaviour before. Thanks for sharing.

  3. never seen that but I did have a beefsteak, of a type that is naturally not smooth, where the tomato grew completely around a nearby stem!

  4. Yes, I have seen them, but not on the common varieties in my own garden.

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