September 24, 2010 > Tomatoes appear to have strawberries inside
Tomatoes appear to have strawberries inside
AP Wire Service
By Elyse Russo
The (Galesburg) Register-Mail
GALESBURG, Ill. (AP), Aug 27 - Dean Wilson says he's no gardener.
So when his wife, Beverly, cut into one of the tomatoes plucked from his attempt at a backyard garden, he was shocked at what he'd grown.
Inside the tomato was what looked to be a strawberry in shape, size and color. And all the tomatoes pulled from this one plant in the garden had the same ``strawberry'' inside.
``It tastes like a really good tomato,'' Wilson said, adding that the strawberry flavor isn't there, but there is a bite of sweetness to the fruit.
Whether you call it a ``straw-mato'' or a ``tom-berry,'' an apparent strawberry that has grown inside of a tomato, is a phenomenon that has been reported elsewhere. For example, in September 2008, an English newspaper reported that a woman named Ester Walker of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, also found a straw-mato growing in her garden.
A friend of Wilson's, former farmer Jack Eden, said he helped Wilson plant his garden this year.
``I grew up on a farm as a kid, I've been a farmer, but I've never seen anything like this,'' Eden said.
The alleged straw-mato plant was purchased from Menards. The plant was labeled a Burpee Salsa Tomato plant, and the other tomato plants of the same variety that Wilson planted yielded ordinary tomatoes.
In Wilson's garden in the back of his Galesburg home, there is a strawberry plant about 50 inches away from the tomato plant that yielded the straw-matoes. The strawberry plant did not bear fruit this year, but that doesn't change what Wilson and Eden think happened.
``They were just matin' I guess,'' Eden said with a laugh.
One with an average gardening IQ would assume that the straw-mato is a result of 'matin' or cross-pollination: ``The transfer of pollen from one flower to the stigma of another,'' according to Merriam Webster.
But an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Knox College, Matthew Jones-Rhoades, says it would be very difficult for a tomato and a strawberry to cross-pollinate. While the tomato is a ``true fruit,'' where only one flower gets pollinated, a strawberry is a ``compound fruit,'' where many flowers need to be pollinated.
``It would be pretty hard to imagine,'' he said of the straw-mato actually coming about.
Jones-Rhoades says he's not a tomato expert, but he has a few theories about how Wilson's straw-mato came into existence.
``Maybe there's a variety of tomato that looks like this all the time,'' he said. Another theory is, perhaps, that the plant underwent a spontaneous mutation and now looks the way it does because of it.
``Plants do weird things when the weather gets hot,'' said Kari Houle, Knox County University of Illinois Extension horticulture unit educator. Wilson brought the straw-mato to the Extension office and the staff e-mailed photos of it to Extension Specialist Elizabeth Wahle in Edwardsville. Wahle concluded that the tomato was not a straw-mato but simply a variety called a ``stuffing tomato.''
``Most stuffing-type tomatoes look like they have a strawberry inside,'' Houle said, referencing Wahle's assessment. ``Just a characteristic of certain cultivars.''
Aside from the Extension office, Wilson also e-mailed photos of the straw-mato to Burpee, since the freaky fruit grew from a Burpee tomato plant, but they were not interested in a sample.
Undeterred, Wilson plans on replanting his straw-mato variety, but not being a gardener, he'll need some help.
``I have no idea how to replant it,'' he said.
Jones-Rhoades also thinks that Wilson should replant his straw-mato and see what sprouts next year.
``I'd be curious what would happen,'' he said.