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Cherokee Purple Tomato

An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; beautiful, deep, dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very-large-sized fruit. Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor. Our favorite dark tomato and one of our best selling varieties.” Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Modern production of this cultivar traces back to one John Green in Sevierville, Tennessee. In 1990, John Green shipped off a packet of tomato seeds from his home in Seveirville, Tennessee, to prolific seed-saver and tomato connoisseur, Craig Lahoullier, with a note. In the handwritten note, Green explains that he received the seeds from a nearby woman who had gotten them from her neighbors. The neighbors had been allegedly been growing the tomatoes in their garden for about 100 years after they had initially been shared with them by Cherokee Indians. Lahoullier thus named the tomatoes ‘Cherokee Purple,’ honoring the story as well as their unusual dark red, almost purple coloring.

Lahoullier planted the seeds and enjoyed the tomatoes so much that he passed them along to friends at seed companies, marking the beginning of their commercial availability in the United States. tomatoes first emerged in western South America, where they can still be found growing wild in Peru, Ecuador, and Northern Chile. However, there is not much historical record of their being cultivated there. The first record of their cultivation is in Central America, by Mesoamerican peoples. It was the Aztecs who picked the name that stuck, calling the fruit ‘xitomatl’, and spreading its usage north to Mexico. The western world first encountered the tomato in 1519, when Hernán Cortés began his conquest of Mexico in the name of Spain. Seeds of this plant were disseminated throughout the Spanish empire and traded with the rest of Europe. The first credible observation of tomato cultivation in the US was made in the late 17th century, but it may have travelled there from Spain, France, Britain, or the Caribbean. 

When ripe, the Cherokee Purple tomato has a dark, dusty rose color with green-tinged shoulders. They’re very sweet and have a rich, almost smoky flavor. The fruit is large and refreshingly acidic, thick-skinned with an earthy, lingering flavor. Cherokee Purple tomato plants are prolific — a great heirloom variety for gardeners and farmers alike.
Listen to the Seed Stories interview with Craig Lehoullier

Seed Stories is hosted and produced by Zachary Paige (aka Zeke Greenside), North Circle SeedsSeed Stories highlights a unique garden seed variety each episode with interviews, history, seed saving techniques and more in a fun and educational format.

Sowing and Growing

See your seed packet for planting instructions!

Best practices and timing for planting any variety will depend on your growing zone and your frost dates. Put your zip code into the Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar to see expected frost dates for your where you live and helpful notes about planting indoors/outdoors, and when to do which one!