What we grow - Biodiversity



The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), from the Solanaceae family, is a tender perennial plant, often grown as an annual. Its berries, with their characteristic red color (But there are many cultivars of different colors), are widely used in the food sector in many countries around the world. Native to the area of Central America, South America and the southern part of North America (The Aztecs called it “xitomatl”, while the tomato sauce was an integral part of their diet), there are several ideas on the origin of the current name:

  • In Italy, the term tomato is to be attributed to the Sienese botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli who first documented the vegetable in Italy in his “Medici Senensis Commentarii” of 1544, where he defined it “mala aurea” (“Golden apple”, for its characteristic golden yellow color before the last stage of ripening);
  • In France it was said that the tomato had aphrodisiac properties and this is the reason it was originally called “pomme d’amour” (“Apple of love”);
  • After its introduction in Europe, Sir Walter Raleigh would have given a tomato plant full of its fruits to Queen Elizabeth, baptizing it with the name of “apples of love”.

It is said that the Spanish leader Hernán Cortés returned to his homeland in 1540 with some tomato plants, whose widespread cultivation, however, only took place in the second half of the seventeenth century. In Italy, the documented history of the tomato begins in Pisa on October 31, 1548, when Cosimo de’ Medici received from his Florentine estate in Torre del Gallo a basket of tomatoes born from seeds given to his wife, Eleonora di Toledo, by his father, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Probably, however, the first Italian region to know the new plant was Sicily, due to the direct influence of Spain on the island (It seems that the oldest Italian tomato-based recipes come from there). Initially it was thought that it was a poisonous plant and was adopted together with the potato as a decorative plant, as an ornament for windows and courtyards by rich people (Probably for the gold colored berries). Later it was understood that it could have a pharmacological and gastronomic use, so much so that the cultivation of the tomato, as an ornamental plant, from Spain, perhaps through Morocco or more likely through the Kingdom of Naples, then under the Spanish monarchy, spread throughout the basin of Mediterranean sea, finding the right climate for its development, especially in Italy.


The tomato plant has a 40-150 cm high stem, more or less pubescent, cylindrical, a little woody at the base, with more or less pubescent odd-pinnate leaves, of a dark green sometimes tending to pale green. The red cultivars are the most common on the market, but they can take on different colors. They range from white cultivars (White queen, white tomesol) to yellow ones (Douce de Picardie, wendy, lemon), pink (Thai pink), orange (Moonglow), green even when ripe (Green zebra), and even purplish black (Nero di Crimea, purple perfect), while in some cultivars the peel is slightly hairy, similar to the skin of a peach. There are long tomatoes (San Marzano), round and very large (Cuore di bue or beefsteak), cherry-shaped, gathered in bunch or hollows inside.


All the green parts of the plant are toxic, as they contain solanine, which is not eliminated even by normal cooking processes; for this reason, the stem and leaves are not used for food purposes. The fruit also contains solanine, but in very low quantities:

  • The ripe red fruit contains from 0,03 to 2,3 mg/100 g of fresh weight;
  • The reddish-yellow tomato for salad contains an average of 6 mg/100 g of fresh weight;
  • The green tomato for salad contains on average 9 mg/100 gr of fresh weight (The green tomato for salad is actually at the beginning of ripening and contains a quantity of solanine much lower than the completely immature green fruit, where the solanine content can exceed 50 mg/100 g of fresh weight).

Due to the presence of various allergenic proteins, tomatoes can be the cause of even severe food allergy (Tomato contact dermatitis as well as urticaria, angioedema and anaphylaxis phenomena are also reported). The ripe fruit is rich in nutrients, although low in calories, and is commonly used for food purposes, in salads or as an ingredient in the preparation of sauces and cooked dishes, such as pizza. Tomato juice or centrifuged, taken as a drink, makes available to the body a significant amount of lycopene, an antioxidant that is believed to have a certain protective function against the risk of prostate cancer. Tomato juice also forms, with the addition of vodka, tabasco, lemon, salt and pepper, the base of a Bloody Mary cocktail, usually served as an aperitif (The non-alcoholic version is called Virgin Mary). Furthermore, especially in Sicily, it is widely used for the preparation of many typical recipes, such as “Capuliatu” (Sun-dried and chopped tomatoes) or ” Astrattu” (Concentrated sun-dried tomato sauce).


In temperate zones, the tomato plant does not survive the winter climate, which is why it is grown as an annual. For table tomatoes, sowing in seedbeds is preferred, with subsequent transplanting to the soil. In Mediterranean climates, like many horticultural crops of exotic origin, the tomato can suffer the effects of the accumulation of humidity, parasites, and various plant diseases, for this reason the cultivation on the ground can cause deterioration of the berries and of the plant in general (Some lower and more robust varieties do not need to be supported, while the more robust fruits are not damaged in contact with the ground as, being hard-skinned, they are used to be transformed) and the installation of supports is normally necessary (Plant has a creeping course). Tomatoes like a rather sunny exposure, even if in the hottest hours this can cause suffering both to the plant and to the fruits; for some varieties with a very sunny climate, a slight shade is advisable, while the soil must be well fertilized, maintaining moderate but regular irrigation. To increase productivity and prevent the excessive development of the green part from stealing resources from the plant, the plants are subjected to “sfemminellatura” or “scacchiatura”, which consists in eliminating the so-called “axillary” shoots, recognizable because they arise at the base of an existing branch. The harvest is mainly done by hand.