It’s a tomato plant! It’s a potato plant!
It’s Super—no, wait, it’s a tomato plant grafted onto a potato plant.
This summer, the British seed company Thompson and Morgan unveiled a new kind of plant: A TomTato™. It is, literally, a plant that grows both tomatoes and potatoes.
It’s made possible by good ol’ graft: A healthy tomato plant is grafted onto a healthy potato plant, and voila, the two become one. Both tomatoes and potatoes are nightshades, and, even more specifically, part of the genus Solanum. (Common eggplants are in that category, too, but Thomson and Morgan haven’t announced any plans to unleash an EggTato.)
The director of Thompson and Morgan, Paul Hansord, spoke to Modern Farmer today, and described just what it’s like to have a TomTato™ in your backyard:
You plant in the spring and start getting tomatoes by July. The TomTato produces massive trusses of fruit. Lots of vigor. You’re going to get abundant tomatoes through the summer. And when they finally settle down, the potatoes will be ready to harvest.
Over a decade of farming work went into the TomTato™, according to Hansord. Growers started experimenting with grafting the tomato and potato plants together, but producing a robust living thing by that process turned out to be harder than it seemed.
"It's very important not to have any viruses; both plants are susceptible," Hansord told ModFarm. "You also need to make sure the tomato and potato stems are the exact same width."
According to Hansord, the plant has been enormously successful. And it’s little wonder. Tomatoes and potatoes, from the same greenery: At a childlike level, it seems almost like magic. "But tomatoes are red! And potatoes! are! brown!,”"some inner, amazed voice wants to shout. Yet here they are, together as one.
The TomTato™ is a reminder, albeit a very real, flowering, red-brown one, that modern farming—and perhaps, even agriculture itself—transfigures plants into tools, and those tools into food. Those tools, then, become just ordinary human products, subject to trademark protections and all the other frillery we bestow upon brands: Coca-Cola®. Harley-Davidson®. TomTato™.
Last month, when The Atlantic compiled a list of the 50 greatest technologies since the wheel, “the green revolution” ranked 22nd. That specific set of advances—encompassing breakthroughs in synthetic fertilizer to old-fashioned breeding techniques—were made only in the mid-20th century, and possibly saved the lives of more than a billion people.
But unlike many of the products of the green revolution, the TomTato™ can be yours—if you’re a gardener in Britain. Thompson and Morgan’s website lists the plant as available for £14.99, or, roughly, $25.
Below, a fauxhawked representative of the nursery explains the wonders of the TomTato™.
Top image: The TomTato™, in all its impossibly possible glory (Thompson & Morgan)
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.