Killer Tomatoes

Who would guess that wholesome potatoes are related to deadly nightshade? Or that sweet cherry tomatoes are cousins to the wicked and wily tobacco?

They’re all part of the Solanaceae family, which also includes eggplant, chili peppers, and : petunias. There’s little to separate the “eat me” and “eat me not” Solanaceae; almost all share inedible or outright poisonous leaves and stems, many deadly for people and pets. With tomatoes, only the ripe fruit is safe to eat. Potato plants are also poisonous; even the taters develop dangerous toxins wherever their skin has turned green. Don’t eat green Solanaceae.

In a 1999 episode of The Simpsons, Homer-frustrated that his tomato and tobacco crops aren’t growing-fertilizes his fields with plutonium. The result is “tomacco”: a tomato with an addictive, ash-gray center. Inspired by Homer Simpson (who isn’t?), Rob Baur of Lake Oswego, Oregon, developed a plutonium-free tomacco plant in 2003 by grafting a tomato plant onto the roots of its cousin tobacco. Wary of the Frankenfruit’s Solanaceae ancestry, Baur did not eat of the tomacco. Smart man.

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