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Cherokee Purple Tomato: An Heirloom Gift From Native Americans

Cherokee Purple Tomato, a beefsteak tomato, is one of the first known black tomatoes. It’s an heirloom variety that has become popular in just a couple of decades. To be technical about it, Cherokee Purple tomatoes are not black. More accurately, according to the man who named them, they’re “the color of a bad leg bruise.”

Cherokee Purple Tomato heirloom tomato variety with Tomato Dirt #HomeGardening #GrowingTomatoes #TomatoVarieties

Cherokee Purple Tomato History

Tomato breeder Craig LeHoullier opened his mail one day in 1990 to find tomato seeds from J. D. Green. 

Mr. Green lived in Tennessee and had been growing the cultivar for a while, he explained in his letter. The original seeds had been given to his neighbor by the Cherokee Indians a century earlier. Once Craig tried the seeds, he was surprised and delighted to find that the fruit was remarkably close to being a true purple in color. That fact, plus the tidbit of history linking the variety to Native Americans, were the inspiration for Cherokee Purple’s name.

Craig sent seed samples to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), and Rob Johnston, founder of Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Soon, the seed companies decided to multiply the seed and carry the variety in their seed catalogs. The availability -- plus Cherokee Purple’s rich sweetness and low acidity – have made it a very popular, widely grown and well regarded variety. (Here's where to get Cherokee Purple tomato plants and seeds.)

Cherokee Purple has some cousins: Cherokee Chocolate (which resulted from a clear to yellow skin color single plant mutation of Cherokee Purple in Craig's garden in 1995) and Cherokee Green (which emerged from Cherokee Chocolate, also in Craig's garden, in 1997. 

Frequently Asked Questions about the Cherokee Purple Tomato Plant

Q. Is Cherokee purple tomato determinate or indeterminate?

Indeterminate

Q. How tall do Cherokee Purple tomatoes get?

A Cherokee Purple tomato plant can grow to be eight feet high or more.

Q. What’s the Cherokee Purple tomato yield per plant?

Yield varies from garden to garden, depending upon growing conditions, soil, and weather. Some gardeners get 50-60 fruits or more over a growing season from their Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Q. What does a Cherokee Purple tomato taste like?

Cherokee Purples have a dense, juicy texture – more meat, smaller seed gel pods – and rich taste that’s been compared to the Brandywine tomato.  

Q. Where can I get Cherokee Purple tomato seeds?

Cherokee Purple tomato seeds are readily available from all kinds of seed vendors, including two of our favorites: TomatoFest and Burpee.

Q. Are there any special tips for growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes in containers?

Use as large of a container as possible. Set your container in full sun. Cherokee Purple tomatoes, like most tomatoes, need at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. Soil in containers dries out quicker than soil in the traditional garden, so you may need water the containers daily during the heat of the summer.

Q. How can I tell when a Cherokee Purple tomato is ripe?

When they’re ripe, Cherokee Purples turn a reddish-purple color on the outside. But don’t let their shoulders trick you. Those tops remain green. You can test for ripeness by feel. The tomato should be firm, but with just a little give especially on the bottom and shoulders. 

Get Cherokee Purple seeds and plants at Burpee.

Get Cherokee Purple seeds at TomatoFest.

Check out other Cherokee Purple seeds and plant vendors.

Cherokee Purple Tomato
Indeterminate
Type: Heirloom
Origin: Tennessee, USA (Native American)
Days to maturity: 80-90 days
Season: Late season
Foliage/habit: medium cover, regular-leaf foliage, grows in clusters of 2 or 3
Fruit color: purple/black
Fruit shape/size: beefsteak, 12 ounces - 1 pound
Disease resistance: V (Verticillium Wilt), FF (Fusarium Wilt, races 1 and 2)
Yield: high
Taste: rich, complex, sweet, low acid
Other strains: Cherokee Chocolate (1995) and Cherokee Green (1997)



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