Creepy, crawly and just plain weird. Every now and then, a phenomenon occurs in tomatoes, strawberries and other various fruits and vegetables that may look like a maggot infestation. However, these things are not maggots. These squiggly sprouts inside the produce are a strange phenomenon known as vivipary.
According to Alabama Extension agent Sedrick Mack, vivipary occurs when seeds that are still attached to their parent fruit or vegetable prematurely germinate. The Latin name vivipary means “live birth.”
In plain terms, a seed begins to sprout while it is still inside the fruit or vegetable, giving the appearance of squiggly looking critters. While this seems like a peculiar occurrence, it is actually quite common. If the fruit or vegetable is in favorable conditions, vivipary is likely to occur.
“For example, a tomato sitting on a countertop in a house with a warm environment would be a favorable condition,” Mack said. “The temperature inside the house mixed with the moisture inside the tomato makes it an ideal environment for the seeds to germinate.”
The spiraling sprouts might look daunting when cutting open produce, yet it is completely harmless. As long as the produce shows no signs of rotting, decay or openings, it is safe to eat.
Can a New Plant Grow?
Although the seeds successfully germinate inside the host plant, it is unlikely the seeds will produce a whole new plant.
“We would like to think that another plant would grow from the original,” he said. “However, the nutrients within the parent fruit would not be enough for the germinating seed to have another generation.”
In the unfavorable growing conditions, Mack said the seeds will die soon after they germinate.
“The warm and moist conditions are only favorable enough for the seeds to germinate,” Mack said.
In order to prevent vivipary, fruits and vegetables need to be in “undesirable” conditions. This could be the refrigerator, or any dry, cool area. However, once vivipary begins, there is no process to stop it.
After catching a glimpse of the squiggly sprouts, don't panic; contact an Alabama Extension agent to confirm vivipary in your produce. For more information on vivipary and seed germination, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.
People can reach the Marshall County Extension Office at (256) 582-2009. The can also stay up to date on the latest Extension happenings in the county by subscribing to the Marshall County Extension Newsletter. The newsletter is sent out at the beginning of each month. You can subscribe at: www.aces.edu/go/marshallnews