02 October 2013

TomTato Plant Produces Tomatoes And Potatoes

Image Caption: Screen grab from Thompson and Morgan video. Credit: Thompson & Morgan 

UK horticulture specialists Thompson and Morgan have introduced the TomTato, a plant that simultaneously grows tomatoes and potatoes.

This tall plant produces up to 500 sweet, cherry tomatoes above ground and a full patch of white potatoes underneath. The fruits and veggies are reported to ripen at the same time, meaning when it’s time to pick the tomatoes, the potatoes can also be unearthed.

Although it may sound impossible without some genetic tampering, Thompson and Morgan say they’ve created this plant through a process called “grafting,” which doesn’t involve genetically modified material. The plants can be grown either inside or outside and last for only one year.

Unlike genetically modified organisms (GMOs), this grafting technique is not an easy process, says Thompson and Morgan director Paul Hansord, and it requires a great level of skill. To graft the TomTato, stems of both a tomato and potato plant are spliced together and then allowed to heal. While plants prefer to be grafted within the same genus, as with the tomato and potato, it is technically possible to graft two separate plants together as well.

“It has been very difficult to achieve because the tomato stem and the potato stem have to be the same thickness for the graft to work,” said Hansord in an interview with the BBC.

“It is a very highly skilled operation. We have seen similar products. However, on closer inspection the potato is planted in a pot with a tomato planted in the same pot – our plant is one plant and produces no potato foliage.”

One similar product Hansord may have been discussing is the Potato Tom from New Zealand. This plant was also introduced last week but isn’t available to ship outside of Wanganui, New Zealand.

Thompson and Morgan have reportedly been working to create the TomTato for over 15 years. In an introductory video, a spokesperson says the fruits offer a full-bodied flavor while the potatoes are suitable for any application, including boiling, mashing, roasting and even french fries.

In another interview with the BBC, Guy Barter with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) said that while others have tried to graft these two plants in the past, the TomTato could be the first commercially successful attempt to do so.

“We’re looking at it with real interest because Thompson and Morgan are a really reputable firm with a lot to lose, but I wouldn’t rule out that it could be a very valuable plant to them,” said Mr. Barter. “Many people don’t have that much space in their gardens and I imagine this sort of product would appeal to them.”

The plant does have one downside, which has been specifically built in. The plant must be unearthed to harvest the potatoes, meaning it will only produce fruit for one season. The company says they specifically chose a late cropping potato variety to allow the tomato plant time to finish cropping first. Once the tomato plant produces its fruit, the potatoes can then be harvested. The tomato plant can even be cut down ten days before the potatoes are harvested.

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