Sometimes fruits like tomatoes or apples surprise us with seeds sprouting inside. This is called vivipary and it occurs when the natural protections within the fruit are no longer sufficient to maintain seed dormancy. Learn whether sprouting fruits are safe to eat and if they can be used to grow more plants.
For tips on growing from seed indoors also see Seed Starting For Beginners: Sow Inside Grow Outside.
Seeds Sprouting—Inside Fruit!
Have you ever cut open a tomato, pepper, or apple to find seedlings growing inside?
That’s what we call vivipary and it’s very strange.
Vivipary can happen when the natural protections that keep seeds dormant within fruit start to wane.
If conditions are right, that overripe tomato sitting on your kitchen countertop may start sprouting seeds—right inside the fruit.
This is also referred to as premature germination or precocious germination.
- What Causes Vivipary?
- What Does Vivipary Look Like?
What Causes Vivipary?
Vivipary—the sprouting of seeds within fruit—can only occur when fruits and their seeds are mature and the protective systems that keep seeds dormant are diminishing.
While a fruit like a tomato is maturing, hormones that inhibit seed germination including abscisic acid (ABA) are present. It’s an evolutionary advantage that has developed independently in various plant species. Not many plants would survive if their seeds could sprout anywhere at any time.
As fruit matures, the protective hormones lose their strength. That very ripe tomato on the vine, or the slightly mushy one sitting on your kitchen counter for a week or two, no longer has full seed dormancy protection. If moisture and warmth are just right, the seeds may sprout within the fruit.
Some Fruits That Do This
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons…)
There are plenty of images showing examples of vivipary online if you are curious.
There are also plants in the tropics and subtropics like mangroves that use vivipary as their usual method of reproduction.
Is Vivipary a Disease?
Vivipary is not a disease: it is a natural process.
What Does Vivipary Look Like?
How vivipary looks will be different for each type of fruit, how many seeds have germinated, and how much they have grown. No matter what, if you’re unfamiliar with it, it can seem creepy.
Tomatoes in particular can look very strange as the seedlings poke through the fruit wall and continue growing outside the fruit. Some fear it’s an invasion of spindly green or white worms or some sort of mutation, but it’s not.
Vivipary is just mature seeds within fruit doing what comes naturally in the right conditions.
This shows how to save seeds from tomatoes for future sowing.
Are Sprouting Fruits Safe to Eat?
Assuming there is nothing else wrong with the fruit, having a sprouting seed or seeds inside a fruit like tomatoes or peppers is harmless.
Larger seeds like avocado (do not eat avocado seeds!) and mango should not be consumed regardless.
Can I Grow New Plants From Sprouting Fruits?
Yes, you can continue growing the seedlings found in fruit.
Before transplanting your seedlings into pots (with potting mix) or outside in the ground, there are a few things to consider.
- Any time you disrupt young seedlings, you risk damaging or killing them. Handle them as little as possible and with extreme care. If possible, wait until the seedlings have leaves before transplanting them.
- Growing conditions are everything. Your seedlings are growing because conditions are right. Pay attention to things like temperature, moisture level, light, and air and make any changes as minimal and gradual as possible. This explains how to “harden off” young plants.
- Sometimes vivipary seedlings grow in a tangled mess. If so, consider saving just a few seedlings by strategically cutting away the rest with fine scissors. This will increase the odds of some surviving.
- Seeds from hybrid plants won’t produce fruit the same as the mother fruit. If you’re just trying this for fun, this is not an issue. This explains different types of seeds.
Can I Prevent Vivipary?
You cannot prevent vivipary. It’s just nature doing what’s needed when conditions call for it.
If you don’t want to see it happen in your kitchen, use your fruit before it’s over-ripe.
Kitchen Propagation Handbook
7 Fruits & Vegetables To Regrow As Houseplants
by Melissa J. Will
Learn how to grow houseplants from avocado, oranges, lemons, ginger, and more using leftover pits, seeds, and roots.
About This Ebook | Visit Ebook Shop
This ebook is a digital file (PDF format) you save to your device. It is not a physical product.
PayPal, Credit Card, Apple Pay
The English word vivipary comes from the Latin meaning “live birth” and has been in use for nearly 400 years. It is usually defined as “seeds or embryos developing before detaching from the parent plant.” We do, however, also use the term to describe seeds sprouted in fruits after picking.
ListenNEW! Click play to listen:
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛