Where to get Wild Tomato Genetics!

Heirloom tomatoes are one of the most visibly diverse plants of the vegetable garden. Colors, flavors, shapes, and patterns abound. However, at the genetic level heirloom tomatoes have low diversity. Modern plant breeders have done much to reverse this by introgressing lots of disease resistance genes from wild species. However, they mainly care only about disease resistance and try to bring in as little as possible- though some of the introgressions are surprisingly large. By crossing heirlooms and moderns we can get the best of both worlds. However, there is a wilder path! Breeding with wild tomatoes ourselves! For those interested in playing it safe it might be good to start with other people’s wild hybrids that have been bred back to palatability or nearer to palatability.

There are several sources out there for wild tomato genetics.

Here are some of my favorites:

Experimental Farm Network has been carrying Joseph Lofthouse’s tomato projects for a few years now. Their new 2023 catalogue will open soon.

J and L gardens in New Mexico which is Lee Goodwin’s operation is a good source of wild tomatoes and Lee’s stabilized varieties with high percentage wild genetics.

Heirloom Reviews Seeds has a good selection of wild tomato species.

Thank you for posting this! At some point it would be nice to have this included in a resource page for tomatoes. J and L Gardens has some great stuff.

This one has thousands of wild accessions. Some really high altitude that would be nice for cold hardiness breeding. Unfortunately for me it’s in US and I’m not quite sure how ordering process would work. It says they generally dont provide seeds for gardeners/amateur breeders, but I to me it sounds like it’s not definite no. Maybe if someone ask for the whole comminity they could send. I mean, with one package they could share the genetics with hundreds of people within 2 years if someone does little propagation.


The first rule with gene banks is to make sure that you have exhausted your other options first before using one. I happen to know there is some promising available habrochaites genetics just in Joseph’s Neandermato strain alone for cold hardiness breeding. Also, starting there would be helpful for getting used to working with habrochaites which is a long slog.

There are several gene banks around each has different rules, but several have good tomato collections. TGRC might not be the best of those to approach as TGRC told me that I must be affiliated with a university or gene bank to request any more seed. Before that they did send me five accessions. I think as plant breeding becomes more popular they are becoming more protective of these resources. I think it would make the most sense to have a university researcher who was willing to manage some citizen science with tomatoes that we could consolidate our requests through or somehow organize a new or existing gene bank like the seed savers exchange that we could do the same with. It would be great if they would also manage and redistribute seed that has already been made available to the community. I think also it might be worthwhile to occasionally self-reflect and consider if you might be so interested in plant breeding that a graduate degree in it might be desirable. If a person ever found themselves in that position, they would certainly have a university affiliation for a few years at least.

Another note about TGRC they have a materials transfer agreement. Tomato Genetics Resource Center - Material Transfer Agreement

To be honest I don’t fully understand the MTA other than that any TGRC materials are bound by it and anyone you share seed with of them you should ask if they are ok with it before sending those seeds. I think it is pretty mild in many ways and simply seeks to shield the UC from any liability. Though there is one worrying sentence about commercial usage requiring contacting the UC regents- I kind of interpret that to mean, give the seeds away only and only accompanied by the MTA or after confirmation that the receiving part is ok with it. That is what I do with the accessions I have and those TGRC accessions I received from another independent breeder. I would have to say I would prefer a source that doesn’t ask for an MTA of any kind. I would love to have someone with a bit of legal background explain it better to me.

Also, a note on how many accessions a breeder can effectively work with- Maybe as few as a single accession. You might find that if you bought everything available from HRseeds, J&Lgardens, and EFN that you were completely overwhelmed with wild tomato material for breeding experiments. I know I am already. An independent plant breeding colleague of mine requested so much and shared it with me that it feels like a burden to grow it out for seed increase and share it- which I recently did with an organization I hope will find a way to share it but it may take them a few years to seed increase some of it themselves. I plan to keep sharing it as well with that same organization and with anyone who says they are ok with the MTA but I cannot share it internationally personally.

Another note: accessions vary from easy to almost impossible for an independent breeder to work with. If you can get some commercial material for a tomato species and work with it a few years before requesting an accession, you will be much better prepared to actually accomplish something with that resource.

So those are the reasons why I did not mention TGRC or ARS-GRIN or IPK. I do not recommend them as a first source. Only after growing a species already for three years, making a cross with it, maybe developing some plant tissue culture and embryo rescue skills for the difficult species.

If you do make a request to a gene bank- please consider doing seed increase, ideally before making crosses, and sharing it with the community of independent breeders so others won’t request that same accession repeatedly. There is a good tradition of this and you will note that if you go to say Victory Seeds website that many heirloom tomatoes were rescued from seed banks. Take the following for the heirloom Magnus:

“Through the efforts of Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, they located seed, accession number NSL 27381, stored within the National Seed Storage Lab in 1994.”- Victory Seeds

I think it should be the same for many wild accessions. There are just fewer of us willing to cultivate and breed with them to support it.

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@WilliamGrowsTomatoes Did not know that. Thank you for the info. Unfortunately there isn’t much available inside EU. One habrochaites I found in online shops and another via seed swap (originally from US), some cheesmania and plenty of pimpinellifolium. What interested about that seedbank was that they had very good info about their origin whereas other sources are more or less unknown. Maybe it doesn’t matter and I will get some of the same usefull genes from those as well, but it would have been nice to know origin. Neadermato I couldn’t find here, but I did find wilding panamorous so I should have some those genes as well.

Here are two suppliers of a few wild tomato species in the EU.

IPK Gatersleben is a European genebank but I see on their website that they have suspended tomato seed requests temporarily. This could be for the same reason that TGRC is not currently sending seeds to European researchers. Namely the rapid spread of the brown rugose fruit virus.

The brown rugose fruit virus is also a reason why it is important right now not to mail seed trades internationally.

When I made my last request to TGRC which they declined it was for several accessions of Solanum pimpinillifolium with resistance to the brown rugose fruit virus as identified in a paper by a researcher. I was able to order one resistant Solanum pimpinillifolium accession from ARS-GRIN instead which I have crossed into my tomato project.

One problem with that is that it is only partial resistance. The researcher who wrote the paper claimed that there is no resistance in domestic tomatoes. Some of the big firms though have already got resistance bred into commercial varieties which are now being grown in Israel and nearby countries which grow tomatoes.

If the virus spreads I suspect that commercial tomatoes may become the best source of resistance and all heirloom tomatoes will be in peril.

Here is a thread about the brown rugose fruit virus on the OSSI board:

@WilliamGrowsTomatoes I got my habrochaites from rareplants, that was the only place I could find it and it doesn’t have that more info abouts it’s origin. Also some c.baccatum seeds that I ordered from there looked quite dark. Tomatoes were normal looking, but makes me a bit carefull about generel quality over there. I did find rarepalmseeds, but at the moment there didn’t seem to be enough of what I was looking for. Some pimpinellifolium I bought from semillas as well as some wild chilis. They had atleast some general location for that although not much either. Cheesmanie I could also find in several places. Habrochaites was one I was looking for that seemed quite rare in EU area.

Though not necessarily so reliable. I have noticed several of his claimed wild species are in fact hybrids, and one wild seems to be misnamed, and it seems some may experience low germination rate, not sure if that might be something to do with how the seeds are processed? Nevertheless, seems to be hard to find wild seeds elsewhere in the US so he does seem to be a valuable source.

J and L Gardens are awesome!

Do you know of any online resources William, through which we can learn these methods? Especially if targeted for tomatoes or similarly small seeds (wilds are especially small!)

Sure that’s not just Solanum esculantum? I think the law on that species are not the same as for the other tomato species.

I’d love to see pics of the results if you have any! How’s the fruit size?
I guess also it must be difficult to tell which of the descendants get those genes because you’d need to test the disease on them to tel, right? Or maybe you could send samples to a country that has a lot of the disease, (or some kind of lab) though that must be expensive and complicated!

One tip about cheesmaniae - if the seeds look like domestic tomato seeds, it’s not pure cheesemaniae - cheesmaniae seeds are tiny, similar to some of the other wild tomato species. Various shops sell such hybrids claiming they are pure cheesmaniae. This does not mean those are not useful, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

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Cheesmaniae I had does have quite small seeds, but not quite like habrochaites. They look like domestic seeds, but as small as they get. I think cherries I got had bigger to same size. Did think there would be a chance that they aren’t pure and might get some more later on. Not sure if cheesmaniae is that important for my goals, just have some in the mix for variety.

They sound like hybrids to me. Do you have photos of the fruits and/or sizes of the fruits? And where did you get them? There is one source of genuine cheesmaniae I know of in the EU and that is Lupinaster on Ebay.

As for your goals… cheesmaniae takes a long time to give fruit I think, so would seem to oppose your short season goals. (How have they been for you, and, you grow them outside, or in a greenhouse?) Though I’m very interested in the species myself and hope that the lateness can be overcome through breeding/crossing. I’m hoping there may be other qualities in the species that can help for our climate - Joseph suggested tolerance to wet conditions for example. Although, I have been growing some in hydroponics and most seem to just die in hydroponics, unlike some of the other wild species, which makes me wonder, maybe they actually have issues with water! Or, perhaps they just require a different pH than other species… I do have a cheesmaniae hybrid (misidentified as pure but I can see from the seeds it’s mixed with esculantum) and that does fine in hydroponics.

That was seed hunters in italy. Not sure where they got them or how they manage, but I know some chilis they sold weren’t the actual variety or even in same species so definetely possible that they aren’t careful/knowledgeable with sourcing and how they market them forward. Still yet to find tomato that is actually too slow to produce even if some are on the later side. I have seen it (I think actual species based on looks) grown here without problems. I think lateness usually comes from many factors, genetic being just one. Lot you can do right or wrong during growing that can make months difference in harvest time. Cheesmaniae should be quite drought tolerant that it might not be as easy for hydroponics.

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