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Growing Indigo Rose Tomatoes

Updated on August 10, 2013

Delicious, Good for You, and Just Plain Cool

You've probably seen purple or black tomatoes before. They're usually neither purple nor black. If you're lucky, they are quite dark, with a purplish-brown hue. If not, they're just plain brown. Indigo Rose tomatoes are different!

Aren't those cool tomatoes?

Indigo Rose tomatoes contain anthocyanins, the same beneficial pigments found in blueberries. The Indigo Rose tomato is the first garden tomato to contain these healthy and striking pigments in its fruit. It's the result of decades of breeding between wild tomatoes, some of which naturally contain anthocyanins, and food crop tomatoes. Unlike other lines of anthocyanin-rich tomatoes, the Indigo Rose also produces high levels of anthocyanins in its foliage, tinting the leaves and even the stems of the plant a dusky, glittering purple.

It's great that these tomatoes are packed with healthy goodness, but in all honesty what drew me to them was the cool color. I'm a sucker for a shiny, eye-catching vegetable. The Indigo Rose tomato delivered! Despite my remarkably poor treatment of this year's garden, my little tomato plant is covered in shiny, almost-black purple tomatoes. Even the foliage has a purple tint to it, and both leaves and fruit have a glittery sheen that's really striking when the sun hits them.

All photographs taken by the author.

How Do You Know When They're Ripe

The Indigo Rose Tomato FAQ

The question I hear most frequently about these tomatoes is, "How do you know when they're ripe?"

The normal color cues are largely absent, as the fruit assumes its purple hue while still very small. The pigments that make this tomato so special are concentrated in the skin as a sort of botanical sunblock. Any part of the tomato that is shaded by leaves will remain green, and will turn red when the tomato is ripe.

The bottom of this ripe tomato got less sun than the rest, and shows a hint of red.

In my case, the plant grew pretty spindly due to neglect, and didn't really shade any part of the fruit. In addition, the plant was in a container placed over light-colored river rocks which reflect quite a bit of sunlight, so even the bottoms of the tomatoes get enough sun to turn them purple. I watched for a transition from the glossy, glitter-speckled metallic purple of the unripe tomatoes to a duller purple-black, as in the picture below. When this happens, they're ripe.

History of the Indigo Rose Tomato

Where Did this Cool Tomato Come From?

The tomato breeding project that produced the beautiful, purple-black Indigo Rose tomato began in the 1960s, when two tomato breeders began crossing edible tomatoes with some of the wild strains that contain anthocyanins. The resulting strains of tomatoes were then interbred by researchers at Oregon State University until the lines were stable and produced tasty fruit with high levels of anthocyanins.

The larger tomato in this picture is almost ripe. See how it's lost most of its glittery sheen?

The Indigo Rose is the first of the resulting lines to become available to the home gardener. If you've been disappointed with the fruit borne by other "purple" or "black" tomatoes, you've got to try the Indigo Rose! Ripening tomatoes, when grown in a sunny spot, develop an every-so-slightly purplish black skin with an almost metallic-looking finish, which turns more purple as the tomatoes approach ripeness. Indigo Rose tomatoes are so striking on the vine, this is truly a front-yard-worthy food crop.

My Experience with Indigo Rose Tomatoes

One Puny Plant

That's right. I'm growing Indigo Rose Tomatoes for the first time this year, and all I've got is one plant that fails in a downright embarrassing fashion to live up to the expectations of its towering tomato cage. So why am I so excited about them?

This poor Indigo Rose tomato plant took a lot of abuse.

The short version: that one puny plant is pretty impressive given how hugely I've mistreated it, the tomatoes are really head-turners, and it's got two vegetable-loathing kids eager to try some tomatoes.

What Did You Do to That Poor Plant?

A Full Confession

The details of the abuse this plant suffered are as follows. First, I bought it as a poor, shrivelled seedling, which I almost never do. I'd heard about this tomato, though, and was eager to try it, and it was too late to start one from seed. I brought it home, set it out in back of my house, and forgot about it for about a week and a half.

Fruit looks almost metallically shiny.

By the time I happened to notice it, my Indigo Rose tomato was beyond sad. It was almost entirely brown, and so wilted it looked like the poor thing had fainted. I watered it and waited to see what would happen.

The plucky little thing put forth new, green growth, so I stuck it in a pot in front of my house. It started to thrive. Then, in early July, my dog, Inigo, developed a mast cell tumor in a very undignified place. Life that month was one prolonged assault on his rear, my wallet, and both of our good cheer. Once more, the Indigo Rose tomato was left unloved and largely unwatered.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that the tomatoes on it were looking pretty great, all things considered, and took a moment to appreciate how hard the plant was trying. I resumed regular watering, and the tomatoes are looking cooler every day. I've only tried one, and it wasn't ripe yet. I knew it wouldn't be, I just had to try.

So, you see, this little plant has been thoroughly stress tested, and passed with flying colors. Unless the fruit turns out to taste bad, which my one unripe taste indicates is unlikely, this plant scores five stars and a larger scale, better cared for place in next year's garden. Updates to follow!

Update October, 2012: They're tasty!

Indigo Rose Tomato Seeds - Next Year, I'll Start Early From Seed

Indigo Rose tomatoes are a stable heirloom line, not a hybrid, so I'll save some seeds from this year's plant. Since I'm dead set on growing more of these gems next year, I'll probably order some seed, too, just in case my saved seeds don't germinate. Much as I love to save seeds, sometimes I'm a bit of a slob about it, and seeds packaged before being thoroughly dried just turn into a dead mess long before planting season arrives.

Seeds and Things Indigo Rose 20 Seeds- Darkest tomato bred so far, exceptionally high in anthocyanins. Organic,Open pollinated, Indeterminate
Seeds and Things Indigo Rose 20 Seeds- Darkest tomato bred so far, exceptionally high in anthocyanins. Organic,Open pollinated, Indeterminate

Indigo Rose tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse and pretty enough to take center stage in the garden. I'll be growing a lot of them next year, as they're one of the most visually striking vegetables I've encountered and the plants can take a lot of neglect without dying. Next year I'm going to try not to put them through any abuse, but it's good to know they'll still produce if life throws me a curve ball and I skimp on my watering.


How to Grow Indigo Rose Tomatoes

The Right Way. Not the Way I Did It.

The short answer is: You grow Indigo Rose tomatoes just like any other tomato. They like full sun, regular, deep watering, and lots of room. If you're using containers, you'll want to give an Indigo Rose tomato plant at least a 15 gallon container so it has plenty of room for a healthy root system. I like smart pots or homemade containers lined with coconut fiber or landscape cloth, and have had much better results in them than in plastic or terra cotta pots, but the most important thing is just to give the plant's roots plenty of room to grow. Use a good, rich soil mixed with plenty of compost.

This tiny tomato already shows dusky purple where exposed to the sun.

If you're growing from seed, you'll want to start your seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. Plants can be transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Early May would have been the time to plant here by the California coast, but my poor, mistreated seedling still produced some great tomatoes with a late June planting.

More About Indigo Rose Tomatoes - Learn What Gardeners are Saying About This Pretty Black Tomato

For a relatively new variety, the Indigo Rose tomato already has quite a following. Here's what gardeners and agriculturalists around the web are saying about this striking and tasty tomato.

Will you be trying Indigo Rose tomatoes in your own garden? Have you already grown some? If so, did you take better care of yours than I did of mine? Perhaps you've grown another purple or black tomato you loved? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I've only grown them once, though I'm looking forward to round two this year. That being said, please feel free to post any questions you have. I'll do my best to answer, or to point you to someone who can.

Your Thoughts on Indigo Rose Tomatoes - Comments and Questions

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    • profile image

      carrottop 2 years ago

      This is similar to how wild carrots are actually purple, and were selectively bred to become orange!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Delicious looking. I love tomatoes and my name is rose, so there you go. They are so gorgeous - a definite for edible landscaping.

    • dakadare profile image

      dakadare 4 years ago

      These are the bomb! Just love them!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 4 years ago

      @GardenerDon: Oh, man, I've lost tomatoes to problem weather, too... so sad after you've put some work into them and begun anticipating the payoff!

    • GardenerDon profile image

      Gardener Don 4 years ago

      What a unique looking vegetable (or is a tomato a fruit?) Sadly, I don't think they do so well in our northern climate. Way too often an early frost nips our tomato growing efforts.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Greetings from the other hemisphere. Tomato season is just starting here. Our local Arboretum held its annual Monster Tomato Sale, where they offer over 200 varieties.

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 5 years ago

      Tomato season is just finishing in my part of the world but I would love to try these next year.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @getupandgrow: Thanks for reading! I prefer my stories with warts, too... mistakes are usually funny later ;)

    • profile image

      getupandgrow 5 years ago

      I love this lens-and especially the way you've told the story warts 'n all...

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @GardenIdeasHub LM: Excellent! They're such pretty tomatoes... I hope they do as well for you as they've done for me!

    • GardenIdeasHub LM profile image

      GardenIdeasHub LM 5 years ago

      I was very interested in growing indigo rose tomatoes and I did pick up some good tips.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @rubyandmahoney: I'm not near Fullerton, though that sounds like a great plant sale! I am quite close to UC Santa Cruz, which also hosts a pretty great plant sale from time to time. No yard... if you have a sunny window, you can probably grow Pixie tomatoes inside!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Indigo Rose Tomatoes are something new to me. I love learning about things on Squidoo. Thank you for sharing, a nice lens. :)

    • rubyandmahoney profile image

      rubyandmahoney 5 years ago

      Do you live anywhere near CSU Fullerton? They have an awesome plant sale each year in March and have tons of exotic varieties of tomatoes. I can't wait until I have a yard again so I can grow tomatoes.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your visit!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi M,

      Without looking at the plant, I can't be sure, but your description doesn't sound too immediately alarming. A few things to keep in mind: It's pretty normal for a plant that's supporting a good crop of fruit to start to look a little ill, just because all the nutrients are going to the fruit. Also, indigo rose plants have photosensitive dark pigments in the leaves and stems, not just in the fruit. You may be seeing the normal darkening of the plant in sunlight. Is the plant developing splotchy, slightly fuzzy or moldy looking dark spots? That's what I would be looking for if concerned about blight. If it's just some of the leaves, and they're dying or blackening uniformly, with no moldy looking patches on the plant or the fruit, it seems more likely to me that you're seeing a combination of the plants normal dark coloration and maybe some stress to the foliage as nutrients are diverted to the fruit. This is my amateur opinion, though... if you're still concerned, or the plant seems to be struggling, feel free to post a link to a photo here, and I'd be happy to take a look. You might also try posting a photo with your question in the forums at GardenWeb, where gardeners more skilled than I may be able to offer you some insight. Good luck!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have been very concerned about our Indigo Rose tomato plants because now it seems even the leaves and stems are turning black. There are many tomatoes on the plants and many flowers. But many of the bottom leaves now getting holes in them and drying out. Is this blight?

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      never heard this before. really amazing.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @TwistedWiseman: Weird veggies for a weird lady... it works out well ;)

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I'd never heard of these until this minute! Wow, lovely looking maters! I might have to try this. I finally pitched my 3-year-old heirloom yellow plant because in this Arizona heat, it was just not thriving. Maybe I can grow one of these this winter!

    • TwistedWiseman profile image

      TwistedWiseman 5 years ago

      What kind of weird vegetables do you have XD

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @TheKitchenGeek LM: Interesting... will you be growing inside, or do you live in an area where you can grow tomatoes in the winter. Where? I may have to move...

    • TheKitchenGeek LM profile image

      TheKitchenGeek LM 5 years ago

      I haven't grown it yet but am planning to be brave and grow it this winter in a container and hope for the best that I will be successful.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @chas65: I'm delighted to hear that you found them tasty... I've only had one taste, and the tomato wasn't ripe yet. It still tasted quite good, but you never really know till you've tasted the mature fruit. I'm trying not to give in to impatience and do more taste-testing before the time arrives...

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @Ramkitten2000: Agreed! It took me years to learn to love salads, and I'll never be one of those people who automatically reaches for the leafy greens when the munchies strike, so prettying up a salad helps me to be more excited about eating them :)

    • chas65 profile image

      chas65 5 years ago

      Someone gave us a few the other day and they were delicious. I had never seen them before.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      These are so cool. I used to grow some purple tomatoes but don't remember what the variety was called. They looks so pretty in salads.

    • EMangl profile image

      EMangl 5 years ago

      never saw them before, will check now if i get seeds here in austria too