There are as many tomato types as there are tomato-based recipes. Tomatoes are incredibly versatile. You can slice them and bathe them in salad dressing for a refreshing side dish, cook them down with olive oil and garlic for a delicious pasta sauce, roast them and smear them on dough for a pizza or simply eat them straight from the vine. No wonder they are so popular with gardeners all over the country.
The range of tomato types available is mind-boggling with more than 15,000 known varieties and at least 3,000 types of heritage or heirloom tomatoes being grown around the world. That’s an awful lot of tomato ketchup! If you’d like to know more about the enormous range of tomato cultivars on offer in Australia, you can read more here.
But before I start listing tomato types there are a few things that need explaining.
Determinate or Indeterminate Tomato Varieties?
All tomato types fall into one or other of these categories.
These plants grow to a certain height and then stop. They are generally a short, bush type of plant which blooms and fruits quite quickly, with the fruit forming on the ends of the branches. Once the tomatoes have ripened, they tend to die off.
Determinate varieties of tomatoes are favoured by gardeners who like to preserve their crop in some way, like turning it into tomato passata or sun-drying them as the crop ripens all at once.
These are vine types of tomato which grow and grow and produce fruit along their stems for over an extended period. This means that once the plant starts fruiting , there is always a tomato somewhere on its vine that is turning from green to red.
As they don’t stop sprouting, indeterminate varieties of tomato need to be staked, to get their fruit up off the ground – and to keep them under control. For some inspiration on how to stake your tomato plants, click here.
These types of tomato are great if you want a couple of tomatoes for your lunch every few days or so.
A tomato-lover should find space in their garden for both types of plant.
What is a Cultivar?
At its most basic, a cultivar is a cultivated variety of plant.
This means that it is a plant which has been chosen and cultivated by growers. It has certain characteristics that its growers like and have selected during propagation. It may be a hybrid of 2 different plants, or it could be developed from a mutation from a plant.
As it is a bit of a ‘Frankenstein’ plant, a cultivar doesn’t grow true to seed.
In contrast, a variety usually occurs in nature and grows true to seed. This means that the plants grown from seeds of a plant variety will have the same characteristics as the parent plant.
What is an F1 Tomato Cultivar?
An F1 tomato cultivar is a hybrid. 2 different parent tomato plants are cross pollinated and the resulting hybrid is an F1 tomato cultivar. Any seed that comes from the F1 cultivar is F2 and this continues on through the generations.
Generally, the F1 tomato cultivars sold here in Australia are seedlings in punnet, rather than packets of seed.
Naming Tomato Cultivars
Interestingly (and confusingly!) a lot of tomato cultivars have different names in different states and territories and sometimes alternative names are given as synonyms. It may seem strange, but it’s possible to find the same cultivar being sold under more than one name, even in the same state, sometimes purely for marketing reasons.
And not surprisingly, many cultivars have additional names used by overseas markets, but they are not always allowed to be used in Australia for licensing reasons. This is another reason why the local name is likely to be used.
The fruit from tomato plants varies greatly in their shape and size. Roma tomatoes are egg-shaped, whilst types of cherry tomato are, well, cherry-shaped.
More unusual descriptions include oblate and deeply oblate. This refers to a flat fruit. Often with ridges on its surface. Rouge de Marmande is an example of an oblate fruit.
This is rarely mentioned in detail as commercial growers are more than aware of the fungal threats etc that could attack their crop.
Home gardeners no doubt find it comforting to know from the growing guide that their chosen cultivar is capable of fighting off particular bacteria or fungi.
For more on deciding which type of tomato is right for you, check out this article.