Solanum lycopersicum (cultivated tomato)

The cultivated tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, is grown worldwide for its fruits.

Tomatoes are native to South America, but were brought to Europe sometime in the 1500s, where they soon became popular and were exported around the world (Eu-Sol: Tomato history).

For a long time tomatoes were known by the name Lycopersicon esculentum, but recent work by scientists has shown that they are really part of the genus Solanum - as Linnaeus recognised when he first described the species. Today scientists and plant breeders all use the name Solanum lycopersicum for the cultivated tomato.

Species detail

Tomatoes have divided leaves with glandular hairs that have a distinctive “tomatoe-y” smell. This comes from drops of fluid exuded by the cells on the tops of these hairs.

Tomato flowers are bright yellow and have at their centre a bottle-shaped cone of stamens where pollen is held. Tomato flowers are pollinated by bees, who grasp the anther cone with their legs and “buzz” to release pollen, which they then collect by scraping it off their bodies. Bumblebees are common tomato pollinators in temperate regions.

The fruit is green when it is immature, but when it is ripe becomes brightly colored. Most of the common types of tomato have red fruit, but the fruits can be yellow, orange, red, purple or multi-colored. Plant breeders select different fruit shapes and colours and cross the plants to create the many cultivated types we grow in our gardens (Eu-Sol: Tomato core collection).

For a detailed species description (taxonomy complete with synonymy), visit Solanaceae Source.

  • Tomatoes in a farmer's market.
    Distribution and habitat

    Discover where the wild relatives of tomotoes originate from, the types of habitat that tomatoes grow in and the wide range of areas they are known from.

  • Cultivated tomatoes

    While Solanum lycopersicum is currently not a threatened species, find out what is being done to preserve other varieties of tomato that are disappearing from cultivation.

  • Solanum lycopersicum flower

    Get reference material for Solanum lycopersicum (cultivated tomato).


Solanum lycopersicum

Fruits of Solanum lycopersicum.

Solanum lycopersicum at a farmer's market

Large-fruited tomatoes in a farmer's market in Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Cultivated tomatoes

Many cultivated forms of tomatoes are fasciated, or lobed.

Solanum lycopersicum flower

Flower of Solanum lycopersicum.

About the author

Sandy Knapp
Dr Sandra Knapp

Merit researcher in botany, focussing on the taxonomy of the nightshade family Solanaceae.

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