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The mutant tomatoes are here, and they come in peace
Sep 12

Associated Press

This is the time of year when, without fail, readers send me photos of their mutant tomatoes.

Many look like Jimmy Durante (if you're too young to know who that is, think Squidward). Others are horned, and some should carry a "for mature audiences only" warning.

The good news is there's nothing wrong with these deformed fruits. Unless otherwise diseased, they're perfectly edible, their taste and nutritional values unaffected. Still, those "noses," "arms" and, um, other appendages remain an amusing curiosity.

If you've ever cut open a tomato, you know they are divided into internal
segments, called locules, which contain gel and seeds. Most tomatoes have about
4 or 5 locules; cherry tomatoes contain 2 or 3; plum or Roma types have 2.

But when a plant is exposed to temperature extremes, such as those above 90 degrees during the day and 82-85 overnight, cell division in the developing fruit could go awry, resulting in the formation of an extra locule. And because there isn't enough room inside a tomato for an extra segment, it develops and grows outside the fruit. Cue the hilarity!

Not every tomato on an affected plant will be deformed, however. "Under the right conditions (temperatures that are too hot or even too cold), this could affect one or two tomatoes per plant, depending on where they are in the development process and what the (weather) conditions are," according to Timothy McDermott, assistant professor and extension educator at Ohio State University.

The likelihood of one of your tomatoes turning into a bona fide conversation piece is estimated to be about one in a thousand, McDermott said.

When you consider how many plants are likely growing in your neighborhood alone and how many tomatoes each of those plants produce, those odds aren't as slim as they may seem.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023

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