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the fruits that "act" like vegetables

The tomato is a plant that bears a large, round, smooth fruit that is a widely used food. The plant looks like a wide, spreading bush at first, but as the fruit gets larger, the plant tends to spread out on the ground.

The tomato is the leading crop among those canned in the United States, with California, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania being the principal "suppliers."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat more than 22 pounds of tomatoes per year. More than half this amount is eaten in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce.

The tomato is one of the best sources of vitamins A and C.


The tomato is a warm-season crop that is usually transplanted. Plants that are 6 to 8 weeks old are taken from the greenhouses or hotbeds and transplanted to a field or garden about two weeks after the last frost of spring. Usually the plants are set about 4 feet apart in four-foot rows. In gardens they may be set in 30-inch rows, 18 inches apart and trained to grow on stakes or on trellises. Staking increases the yield on a given area of land, but it also decreases the number of tomatoes per plant.

Slicing or table tomatoes are harvested while the fruit is still somewhat immature. Fruits to be shipped long distances are picked just as they begin to turn pink. Cannery tomatoes and soup tomatoes must not be picked until the fruits are fully ripened.


The tomato was domesticated by the Indians of Central America, but had spread to both North and South America long before Columbus arrived. Seeds of the tomato were taken to Europe, where the plant was raised for decoration. Early colonists brought the seeds to Virginia and grew tomatoes in flower gardens. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Americans to eat tomatoes, but tomatoes did not become a popular food until several years after the Civil War.

Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically the tomato is a fruit, since it is the ripened ovary of a plant. Most people, however, consider it a vegetable because it is generally used as a vegetable. In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Nix v Hedden that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables. It is included with other vegetables here primarily because it is cultivated more like a vegetable than a fruit.

Scientific Classification

family Soanaceae (nightshade)
genus & species Lycopersicum esculentum

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The Robinson Library >> Vegetables

This page was last updated on 10/16/2018.