Plant of the month: February
Also known as: Tree tomato, tamarillo
Family: Solanaceae (potato and tomato family)
Native to: Bolivia or NW Argentina
Blooms: Spring to summer. Fruits summer to winter.
Habitats: Subtropical forests
Where is it found at BBG: Subtropical House
This tender shrub or small tree grows to four metres in height and produces fruit resembling egg-shaped tomatoes. The skin tastes bitter but the flesh is sweet and it has been long cultivated in Peru for these fruits which can be processed to make juice, jam, chutneys, curries, sauces and flavourings for ice-cream. The fruits are also edible raw but when unripe they are slightly toxic.
These fruits mature from self-pollinating, white, star-shaped flowers, which are similar to those of the potato or tomato. However in contrast the tamarillo leaves are huge and are simple in shape, not divided. In New Zealand about 2,000 tons are produced on 200 hectares of land and exported to the United States, Japan and Europe.
Tree tomatoes are easily propagated by seed or cuttings in spring and grow extremely fast. With regular potting they can attain a height of 2 metres in the first year! It is possible to grow them in a large tub stood outside for the summer. When the fruits form in the autumn the whole tub must be brought inside a conservatory or heated greenhouse for the winter as they wont tolerate temperatures below freezing. Or, like us, you can choose the easy option and grow them in a warm greenhouse!