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The Cherokee Purple Tomato

If you enjoy growing and sampling novel fruits and vegetables, it’s a great time to be a gardener. Every year, gardening breeders and innovators come up with new and interesting vegetable and fruit variations that delight those of us who like diversity in our diets and our gardens.

However, there are some intriguing vegetable and fruit varieties that have been around for years. One of those is the Cherokee Purple tomato, which is one of the most popular heirloom tomatoes you can grow today. An heirloom tomato variety, the Cherokee Purple tomato is one of our favorite tomatoes.

If you weren’t aware that tomatoes aren’t just red or yellow, then you’ll enjoy learning about the Cherokee Purple. You might just be inspired to plant one of your own this spring!

Closeup of plate of large, dark reddish purple heirloom tomatoes.

History of the Cherokee Purple Tomato

A retired chemist named Craig LeHoullier of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is the man to thank for the Cherokee Purple tomato. The Raleigh, North Carolina native has one of the country’s largest personal tomato collections and he grows heirloom varieties of tomatoes in his small suburban yard every year.

In 1986, LeHoullier joined the Seed Savers Exchange to start connecting with other avid seed savers and gardeners and he quickly built up his reputation as a knowledgeable tomato connoisseur. In 1990, LeHoullier checked his mail and found a packet of tomato seeds accompanied by a handwritten note. The packet was from a Tennessee man named John Green, who said that the seeds were from a seed-collecting acquaintance.

These seeds had originally come from a family who had been saving the seeds for more than 100 years, passing the seeds down from generation to generation. According to Green, the seeds for the unusual purple tomatoes originated with the Cherokee Indians. Thanks to Craig LeHoullier and his confidence in the Cherokee Purple tomato, these delicious tomatoes are now out there for home gardeners to grow.

Tomato seeds on fabric.

Cherokee Purple – Heirloom Tomato Characteristics

The Cherokee Purple tomato is a beefsteak red tomato that has a juicy, dense texture. In terms of appearance, the Cherokee Purple tomato has been described as looking similar to a “leg bruise.” The seeds inside the Cherokee Purple tomato are surrounded by pith, a green gel that is largely responsible for how flavorful a tomato is.

Ripening Season

Cherokee Purple plants will produce ripe fruit in about 80 days to maturity (between 75-90 days from the date of transplant).

Cherokee Purple Tomato Qualities

The Cherokee Purple tomato is a globe-shaped tomato that is usually flattened. The skin has a pinkish-red color and the flesh is a rich red.

Cherokee Purple Tomato Size

The fruit size of Cherokee Purples is large and they can weigh between 12 ounces and 1 pound. Cherokee tomatoes grow to be between 3 and 5 inches in diameter.

 Display of Cherokee Purple Tomato fruit.
Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

What Does the Cherokee Purple Tomato Taste Like?

Cherokee Purple tomatoes have a smoky flavor, and have both a tart flavor and sweet flavor with plenty of pith, which makes them more flavorful.

Planting Zones

The Cherokee Purple tomato is a variety of tomato that is well-suited to USDA Hardiness Zones 5a-8b.

Size and Spacing

Cherokee Purple tomato plants will grow up to 9 feet tall with a spread of between 2 and 4 feet. Allow between 18 and 36 inches between plants.

Because of their size, Cherokee Purple tomato plants should be staked or grown in tomato cages. Also, Cherokee Purple tomato plants are an indeterminate plant type, which means that they will grow continuously. Determinant plants are genetically engineered to stop growing once they reach their designed structure.

Pollination

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated, which means that the seeds from these tomatoes will produce fruit that is almost identical to their parents.

Plant Care

The following sections will provide highlights about tomato care. For a complete guide on optimal tomato plant care, from planting to harvesting and storage, please check out our article on How To Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide For the Best Tomatoes.  You may also be interested in our blog post on how to grow big tomatoes!

These tomato plants will grow in almost any climate provided that the plants have three to four months of warm weather and plenty of sunlight.

Green, unripe heirloom tomatoes.

Sunlight

Cherokee Purple tomato plants thrive in sunny locations and need between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight every day.

Soil

Tomatoes should be planted in soil that has plenty of organic matter or well-rotted manure.

Most tomatoes enjoy well-drained rich soil, and this includes the Cherokee Purple tomato. Soil pH for growing tomatoes should be between 6.0 and 6.8.

Water

Cherokee Purple tomatoes need about one inch of water every week. To water your Cherokee Purple tomato plants, soak the soil thoroughly once per week to a depth of between 6 and 10 inches. Gardeners who live in extremely hot climates or experience long dry spells will need to water their tomato plants more often.

We recommend using soaker hoses or drip hoses to water tomato plants because this prevents the leaves from getting wet.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes require specific nutrients (such as calcium) to produce their best crops of fruit. To learn how to determine what your tomatoes need and when they need it, consult our ultimate tomato fertilizer guide.

Pruning/Pinching

Pruning and pinching are a tomato care technique that can help your tomato put forth its best yield. But you need to know when to do this and what tomatoes need it. To help you with this, visit our pruning tomatoes guide.

Person pinching suckers off tomato plant.

Diseases

The Cherokee Purple tomato is more disease-resistant than many other dark tomato varieties. Also, this heirloom tomato grows well in climates that have excessive humidity. Nevertheless, some of the diseases that can plague Cherokee Purple tomatoes include Alternaria stem canker, black mold, anthracnose, blight, botrytis gray mold, catfacing, fusarium wilt, mosaic virus, leaf spot, verticillium wilt, and powdery mildew.

Blossom End Rot

Tomatoes are susceptible to blossom end rot, but this problem is preventable. Don’t allow the soil around your tomato plants to become too dry or too soggy.

Flower Drop

In extreme hot and cold temperatures, tomato plants can suffer from blossom drop, also called flower drop. When this happens, the flower stems will turn yellow and dry up or fall off. To prevent this, make sure you’re growing tomatoes that are appropriate for your growing zone. Also, protect your plants from extreme temperatures.

To learn how to detect, treat, and take steps to prevent diseases, read our tomato diseases guide.

Pests

One thing you have to worry about when growing tomatoes is birds. Birds will peck holes in your tomatoes, and the best way to control this is to pick the tomatoes before they’re fully ripe.

Small bird on tomato cage.

Other pests include:

  • Hornworms
  • Whiteflies
  • Aphids
  • Flea beetles
  • Thrips

For information to help you spot, eliminate, and deter 15 different pests, visit our guide on common tomato pests.

When to Harvest Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Cherokee Purple tomatoes are ready to harvest in the summer and fall. These tomato plants are indeterminate plants, which means that they will continuously produce and grow tomatoes up to the first frost in autumn.

To get your tomatoes to ripen indoors, place them underneath sheets of newspapers or in brown paper bags. This method is more effective than putting the tomatoes in a sunny window to ripen.

Before the first frost in the fall, harvest your green tomatoes and put them under newspaper so that they can ripen. You can also use your green tomatoes in fried green tomato recipes or to make green tomato relish.

Person holding dark, reddish purple tomato.

Common Uses for Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

The best way to enjoy most types of tomatoes is to eat them raw in salads and on sandwiches. However, most types of tomatoes are also delicious in sauces, with pasta, on pizza, and sliced for sandwiches. A Cherokee Purple is a great slicer tomato for burgers.

Cooking Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

You can use Cherokee Purple tomatoes in any recipe that calls for tomatoes.

Eating Raw

Cherokee Purple tomatoes have a rich flavor and complex flavor. They are best when they’re enjoyed fresh. These tomatoes are excellent beefsteak slicing tomatoes.

Closeup of large tomato slices served as a Caprese Salad.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Preserving Cherokee Purples requires the same guidelines you would use for canning, freezing, and drying any flavorful tomato varieties.

To can tomatoes, use the boiling water bath canning method. For drying tomatoes, you can use a food dehydrator or the oven to make homemade “sun-dried tomatoes.”

While you can freeze tomatoes, the high water content causes them to lose their consistency and break down. If you freeze tomatoes, use the frozen tomatoes to make soups and sauces.

Recipe Ideas

There is no shortage of delicious tomato recipes in cookbooks and in online databases. Check out these articles for ideas about how to use tomatoes in your diet.

Health Benefits of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Like all tomatoes, Cherokee Purple tomatoes are full of vitamins and nutrients. Tomatoes have vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and folate. Also, tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.

Large, dark red tomato cut into slices.

Where to Buy Cherokee Purple Tomato Seeds or Plants

You can buy Cherokee Purple tomato seeds online at retailers Hoss Tools: Cherokee Purple Tomato Seeds.

Where to Buy Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

It’s rare to find Cherokee Purple tomatoes for sale, so you need to grow your own plants. However, you may occasionally find them at farmer’s markets.

Wrapping Up the Cherokee Purple Tomato

Pile of large, dark red heirloom tomatoes.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes and other popular heirloom varieties are one of the pleasures of summer. The Cherokee Purple is hugely popular because of its origin story, unusual appearance, and exceptional taste.

Have you ever grown a Cherokee Purple in your garden or enjoyed eating them? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below! To read about other interesting tomatoes, click here for our tomato blog posts.