A new species of tomato that fruits in up to sub-zero temperatures has been bred in a collaboration between universities in Sweden, Norway and Patagonia.

Solanum arcticum is a perennial tomato, the first of its kind in the world, that flowers and fruits from September to March. In a breakthrough this week, scientists were able to collect viable seed from one of their first stock plants.

The breeding programme, which started in 2014, has reached this milestone at a crucial time for UK suppliers, who have been struggling to source tomatoes through the cooler months. Trials are ongoing and we could see these tomatoes on our shelves as early as winter 2025.

By extracting genes from winter cropping potatoes, also part of the Solanaceae family, the team were able to alter the genetic makeup of different tomato plants and eventually had success when working with cordon varieties.

Senior botanist Dr Lätt Lurad, who has headed up the project in Sweden, said "We're very excited to hit this milestone and think this project could completely change the opportunities we see in our current crops."

The team were first inspired to look into this breeding programme after the remnants of an early relative of the Solanum family were discovered in the stomach of a well-preserved woolly mammoth, suggesting to scientists that similar fruiting plants had existed during the ice age.

Solanum arcticum produces profuse flowers from late September and fruits from December in its first year and continually from September in subsequent years. The fruit are sweet and thin-skinned, making them perfect for both salads and pasta sauces. Seeds germinate best in temperatures below 5 degrees, making them perfect for northerly climates. However, it is thought that they will be perfect for British gardens if treated to a cold snap in a refrigerator first.


Molly Blair
Molly Blaireditorial and digital assistant

Molly is the Gardens Illustrated's editorial and digital assistant. She has a roof garden and has her RHS level 2.