Tomato 'Shirley' in the Kitchen Garden
Solanum lycopersicum


Family: Solanaceae
Other common names: طماطم (Arabic), 番茄 (Chinese, simplified), 番茄 (Chinese, traditional), lilek rajče (Czech), nτομάτα (Greek), 'Ōhi'a (Hawaiian), tomat (Indonesian), pomodoro (Italian), アカナス,トマト(Japanese), 토마토 (Korean), valgomasis pomidoras (Lithuanian), xictomatl (Nahuatl), oginy (Ojibwe), pomidor zwyczajny (Polish), томат (Russian), tomate (Spanish), บะเขือส้ม, มะเขือเทศ (Thai), domates (Turkish)
IUCN Red List status: Not Evaluated

Probably the world’s favourite fruit, even if it is traditionally eaten as a vegetable, the tomato is a key part of countless recipes across the globe.

While it’s thought of as a quintessentially Italian food, the tomato traces its roots back to the indigenous peoples of South America and was introduced to Europe by Spanish colonists in the 16th Century.

In 2019, nearly 181 million tonnes of tomatoes were grown around the world.

A branching vine that can grow up to 2m tall if supported. Vines and leaves are covered with short fine hairs. The plant displays small, five-petaled, yellow flowers, which will produce green berries when pollinated. These berries ripen into a variety of colours, including red, yellow, orange and purple.

Read the scientific profile on tomato


The town of Buñol in Spain is home to the annual La Tomatina festival, a large tomato fight between participants.

Food and drink

Tomatoes are a key part of cuisines across the world, and are eaten as part of sauces, soups, and salads.

In particular, tomatoes form a key part of European cuisine, such as in Spanish and Italian sauces.


Tomatoes are a source of vitamin C, which is important in maintaining healthy cells in the body.

  • As members of the nightshade family (Solanceae), tomatoes were thought to be poisonous when brought to Europe and grown only as ornamental plants

  • Botanically, tomatoes are berries and considered fruit. However, in 1893 the US Supreme Court defined them as vegetables for tax purposes

  • The first genetically-engineered food to be sold in shops was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was modified to extend its shelf life

Map of the world showing where tomato is native and introduced to
Native: Peru
Introduced: Zimbabwe, Alabama, Alaska, Andaman Islands, Angola, Arizona, Arkansas, Assam, Austria, Azores, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, British Columbia, Burkina, California, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Caroline Island, Central African Republic, Chagos Archipelago, Chatham Islands, Christmas Island, Colombia, Comoros, Connecticut, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Delaware, Dominican Republic, East Aegean Islands, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Fiji, Florida, Galápagos, Georgia, Gilbert Islands, Gulf of Guinea Islands, Haiti, Hawaii, Illinois, India, Indiana, Iowa, Ivory Coast, Japan, Java, Kansas, Kazakhstan, Kentucky, Korea, Laccadive Islands, Laos, Leeward Islands, Line Islands, Louisiana, Madagascar, Madeira, Maine, Malawi, Mali, Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Islands, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mauritania, Mauritius, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nebraska, Nepal, Nevada, New Brunswick, New Caledonia, New Hampshire, New York, New Zealand North, Nicaragua, Nicobar Islands, Niue, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nova Scotia, Ogasawara-shoto, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Panamá, Pennsylvania, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Puerto Rico, Québec, Rhode Island, Réunion, Saskatchewan, Society Islands, South Carolina, Taiwan, Tennessee, Texas, Trinidad-Tobago, Tuamotu, Tubuai Island, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Utah, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vermont, Vietnam, Virginia, Wisconsin, Zambia, Zaïre

Widely cultivated, as well as found in grasslands, woodlands, marshland and open plains.

Kew Gardens

A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.


Kitchen Garden

View map of Kew Gardens
Best time to see
Flowers: May, Jun
Fruits: Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct
Foliage: Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep

Other plants

More from Kew


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The geographical areas mentioned on this page follow the World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions (WGSRPD) developed by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).