Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tomatoes, Cantaloupes and Sassafras

Question: Are all tomatoes red?

Answer: No. There are tomatoes that are orange, yellow, yellowish green, white (ivory) and pink (pinkish red) when ripe. Some like ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ get their names because they are so much darker than standard red tomatoes. Some varieties are yellow or orange and marbled with red. Check seed catalogs, especially those specializing in tomatoes and heirloom varieties of vegetables, to see many tomatoes that are quite different from the ubiquitous red ones. You may also see them at farmers markets, as some small farmers are growing these specialty and heirloom varieties. It is possible to get a mental picture of the color possibilities by looking at the names of some of these less familiar varieties: ‘Big Rainbow,’ ‘Georgia Streak,’ ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Green Grape,’ ‘Chocolate Stripe,’ ‘Emerald Apple,’ ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘White Wonder,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Violet Jasper,’ ‘Persimmon,’ ‘Black Prince,’ ‘Carbon’ and ‘Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge.’ If you want something different, try some of these in your garden or on your dinner plate.

Q: Why are tomato plants called vines? What is a “vine-ripened” tomato?

A: Tomato plants do not twine as morning-glory or bean vines do. They do not cling to walls or posts with rootlets the way English ivy does. They do not attach themselves with tendrils the way grape vines do. However, because of the loose, sprawling habit that requires some varieties to need staking or trellising, tomato plants are sometimes called vines. A vine-ripened tomato is a tomato that is allowed to ripen while still on the vine. It is picked when it is ripe. It is not as suitable for shipping as those picked green or nearly green and gassed with ethylene to ripen them. One note of caution: there are some sellers who will call a tomato “vine-ripened” if it is picked when it is showing any redness or color other than green. You are most likely to get truly vine-ripened tomatoes by growing them yourself or buying directly from the grower at the farm or at a farmers market.

Q: Are there any green-fleshed cantaloupes (muskmelons)?

A: There are some that have green or green with orange flesh. Two well-known varieties are ‘Rocky Ford’ and ‘Jenny Lind.’

Q: What is the difference between sassafras, red sassafras and white sassafras? Which one often grows along fences?

A: Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is native to Georgia and grows throughout the state. Most people just call it “sassafras,” but a few people call it “red sassafras” or “white sassafras.” It is the same tree, however. It often grows along fences because birds eat the small fruit and deposit the seed in their droppings when they are resting on the fence wire or fencepost.

If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, visit our website at or write us at 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Room 227, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail us at