New species of terrifying tomato appears to bleed | Science News for Students

New species of terrifying tomato appears to bleed

Australian bush tomato is less than appetizing
Jun 1, 2016 — 7:00 am EST
spiky tomato

A growing Solanum ossicruentum tomato is covered in a spiny outer coating. These spikes help the tomato latch onto the fur of passing animals. Each fruit is roughly 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters (0.6 to 1 inch) wide (penny shown for size).

C.T. Martine et al / PhytoKeys 2016

A new Australian species of tomato belongs in a haunted house, not on a sandwich.

The species, Solanum ossicruentum, is a type of bush tomato from northern Australia. However, its fruit bears little resemblance to the cultivated cousins sold in grocery stores. These tomatoes are only a couple centimeters (about an inch) wide. And they grow within a shell of spikes. These spikes probably help the fruits latch onto the fur of passing mammals to spread the plant’s seeds elsewhere.

bloody tomatoSlice the fearsome fruit open and get ready to scream. Within five minutes, its sticky white-green flesh appears to bleed. It flushes bright red to dark maroon as it gets exposed to air.

One brave researcher tasted an unripe fruit and deemed it salty. The bush tomato does not get more appetizing with time. Mature fruits harden into dry, bony nuggets. Its gruesome qualities earned the tomato its formal name, which was chosen with the help of 150 seventh-grade science students in Pennsylvania. They combined the Latin words for “bone” and “bloody” to get ossicruentum.

Researchers from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., described the plant May 3 in PhytoKeys. But local people in Australia already knew about the tomato. Some members of an indigenous group called the Walmajarri even eat the outside part of a related species of bush tomato (although not this bony-textured one).

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

cultivate    To prepare land for growing food or to nurture the growth of a plant.

indigenous   Something that naturally occurs in one place. Can refer to a group of people who originate from the place in which they currently live.

mammal    A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding the young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.

species   A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce. 

NGSS: 

  • MS-LS1-4

Citation

C.T. Martine et al. New functionally dioecious bush tomato from northwestern Australia,Solanum ossicruentum, may utilize ‘trample burr’ dispersal. PhytoKeys. Published online May 3, 2016. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.63.7743.

Further Reading

R. Kwok. “Tomatoes’ tasteless green gene.” Science News for Students. July 13, 2012.

S. Ornes. “Tomatoes that trick the taste buds.” Science News for Students. September 20, 2010.

E. Sohn. “Growing healthier tomato plants.” Science News for Students. July 9, 2004.