Half Tomato, Half Potato? You Say Tomato, I Say TomTato; Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

By Gabrielle Jonas on November 20, 2013 1:38 PM EST

Part Tomato, Part Potato: Meet the TomTato
After 10 years, a British horticultural firm succeeded in grafting two related plants together. (Photo: Thompson & Morgan)

A British horticultural company is making a sensation in the gardening world with its successful grafting of a tomato with a potato. The TomTato's roots  yield about two kilograms, or almost four and a half pounds of white potatoes a season, while it yields about 500 cherry tomatoes on its branches. Thus far, it is only available in the UK, where it sells for £14.99 - about $24.25 -- from the company's  website and seed catalogue.

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To graft two plants, a botanist inserts a shoot or twig into a slit of the stem of a living plant, allowing for the transfer of sap. Grafting is possible between related plants. The tomato is already a member of the potato family. The two vegetables could successfully be grafted together because they're both from the same solanum plant genus. The result is the Solanum lycopersicum, Solanum tuberosum, or TomTato.

The 158 year-old horticultural company, Thompson & Morgan, in Suffolk, England, has been working on the grafting of the two vegetables for more than 10 years. It holds a patent on the TomTato, which it released this year. The TomTato is now its number one seller.

"We have never, ever, ever had a product launch that came close to the TomTato," Paul Hansord, director at Thompson & Morgan, told Modern Farmer magazine.  "Not by a long stretch."

It took about 10 years of tinkering.   "It's very important not to have any viruses; both plants are susceptible. You also need to make sure the tomato and potato stems are the exact same width," Mr. Hansord told Modern Farmer.

"We've created all sorts of interesting new plants - scented begonias, climbing petunias, giant pumpkins - but this is light years more popular. I suppose there's sort of a 'never been seen' factor," he said.  "It seems like magic, or genetic engineering. But there's nothing Frankenstein about it - just good old traditional grafting. People have been doing it for hundreds of years."

Apart from the novelty factor, Mr. Hansord told Modern Farmer, the TomTato's tomatoes are flavorful and the potatoes excellent for baking, steaming and mashing, "but not so much for chips." He has some other kinds of grafted plants in the works, but close-lipped about what they are.

Because the potatoes are ready to harvest only when the tomato harvest is over in the summer,  it's doubtful the two vegetables can be prepared together.

Is the plant more tomato or more potato? Probably more tomato. Growers need to feed it tomato food, not potato food.

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