Cherokee Purple tomato

I grow Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the hot climate of Arkansas, USA. It's usually wet in the spring and dry in the summer. Temperatures routinely go above 90 F (32 C) for a couple months each summer. Tomatoes don't like it that hot while in direct sunlight, but the garden here still manages to put out many tomatoes before and after the heat wave each summer.

Location of garden: Arkansas, USA


A couple more Cherokee Purple tomatoes (the two on the right) made it in from the garden.  The three on the left are Arkansas Travelers.  

Good Bites

The flavor is good as it gets. My work finally paid off and I got to enjoy this heirloom tomato.




Update for Jul-25-2008

I Went out to the garden today and picked 3 Cherokee Purple tomatoes along with some other veggies.



There is cracking on the tomatoes, mostly on the tops.  That's fine with me since I usually cut the top of my tomatoes off and discard them.  The bottom part of the tomato is the best tasting.




One of the tomatoes has an odd growth at the top.  Here are some more views of that peculiar tomato:




It looks like someone stitched the bottom of the tomato back together.  :-)  The Cherokee Purple is definitely not like the tomatoes you see in the grocery store.  Some may think the tomato above is ugly.  I think it has character.

I might have picked the tomatoes a bit too green.  However, I am desperate to get some of these tomatoes and want to get them before they were spotted by wild animals.  I sometimes have trouble with squirrels, birds, and raccoons taking my stuff.  The tomatoes are now in our kitchen window to continue ripening until we eat them.


Update for Jul-19-2008

One of my plants produced its first edible fruit today.  However, it was a runt and far from perfect.  

First edible fruit, top

Top view of a small, 3.1-ounce Cherokee Purple.

First edible fruit, top

Bottom view of same tomato.

While just a runt, the flavor from the 4 bites I was able to get from this tomato were very good... much better than any grocery store tomato.  If a runt tasted this good, I can't wait to have a full-sized, healthy Cherokee Purple tomato!

Update for Jul-17-2008

I threw a tomato out into the woods today.  It was slightly rotten.  I think the reason is because that particular tomato, being a low hanging fruit, was touching the ground.  The tomato was also kind of a runt, so it got tossed.  I'll continue to wait.  There are a couple other Cherokee Purple tomatoes here that are starting to turn red.  Will take pictures if/when I get a good tomato to pick.

Update for Jul-08-2008

Looks can be deceiving.  This tomato is headed to the compost pile. Download flash video.

Update for Jul-03-2008

Waiting for the fruit to ripen: Flash Video

Update for Jun-24-2008

I took a tour of my Cherokee Purple plants today and recorded a video showing how they currently look.  A couple of the plants have green fruit on them: Flash Video

So far, the Cherokee Purple plants look healthy this year. I am trying something different this year and it seems to be helping. When I mow with my push mower, I bag the clippings. I am putting the clippings down on the ground around the plants. I think the clippings are working great as a mulch. They are helping to keep the ground moist and cool.

Today, for example, it has been hot here in Arkansas. It is currently 97 F (36 C) and sunny. However, if I pull back some of the grass clippings, which themselves are hot, I can put my fingers into the soil below the clippings and the soil is actually cool to the touch. The plant roots are staying cool, thanks to the grass clippings. In previous years when I grew tomatoes, many times the plants would look very sickly when it became hot. This year, I'm hoping the thick layer of grass clippings will help my plants stay healthy and produce some good fruit.

I had some extra cardboard laying around and, as you can see in the video, I placed them on the ground around one of the plants, just to help keep the ground cool. The cardboard helps keep the sun from hitting the ground, keeping the soil cooler, and helps the ground retain moisture. Another plus is that the heavy cardboard is good weed control. The disadvantage is that it's not very pretty to have cardboard laying on the ground, but I don't mind. My wife thinks it looks tacky.

Moe Terry wrote an interesting post today about cloning a Cherokee purple tomato plant from its suckers. What an interesting idea! I might have to try that some day.

Update for Jun-10-2008

I inspected my plants and found my first Cherokee Purple tomato of the year! The best plant is the one I planted in a raised bed centered around a compost pile. There are pumpkin and watermelon vines growing around the tomato plants.

2008_0610_Cherokee_Purple_and_pumpkins (175K)

The first tomato is hidden under the leaves. The leaves have to be pulled back to see the hidden treasure.

2008_0610_under_the_leaves_Cherokee_Purple (121K)

2008_0610_Cherokee_Purple (109K)

Rickey B. on Friday, February 15, 2008 at 18:02

Love the Cherokee Purples! Absolutely my favorite to date and I've been growing heirloom and OP varieties for 4 years now. I have had the chance to try close to 40 varieties and CP is still the tops. Here's some of my handy work (hope the pics show up). Feel free to add to your site for examples.

Earl on Friday, February 17, 2008 at 12:58 PM

Wow, those look delicious! I see you sprinkled an herb on some tomato slices...basil maybe? I've tried doing that before to take the place of salt. I still didn't like it as well as salt, but will try it again later this summer. Maybe I'm using the wrong herb.

Betty on Friday, May 9, 2008 at 10:57 AM

Someone in Texas sent me the seeds of Cherokee Purple because it is her father's favourite. I sowed them in my greenhouse and every one germinated, probably more than 40. I have never seen the seeds for sale here in England so I was very interested to read about your experiences and look at the photos. My plants are all doing well but I won't plant them outside till the first week of June, last year we had a heavy frost at the end of May. Best wishes, Betty, Birmingham, England

carol craig - Friday, May 16, 2008 at 10:11 PM

How do I get some seed or plants for the Cherokee purple tomatoes.

Earl - Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 1:15 PM

I bought my seed from Seed Savers Exchange. [When you click on link, it might not work first time. Refresh your browser if you see an error and their page should load up.] I paid $2.50 in 2005 for a packet. I've been using the same packet now for four years! (2005, 2006, 2007, and now 2008) The seed germinated again this year even though they are aleady several years old.

Moe Terry - Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 1:04 PM

This is my first try with the Cherokee Purple tomato's. I bought it at the advice of a local nursery. I find it to be a very hardy plant that produced many suckers of which were easily turned into other plants by puting them in potting soil in a styrofoam cup with a drainag hole in the bottom. The mother plant has produced BIG tomatoes and lots of them- is still going strong. They are great tasting too, wonderful BLT's. The largest weighed in at just under 22 oz with an even larger one still green. They will definetly be with me for my fall planting from suckers and will keep seed for next year. one plant has given me 14 beautiful plants from suckers. Highly recommended to all gardeners.

I didn't know you could take suckers from a tomato plant and grow clones. I wonder how big the suckers were that you planted in the styrofoam cups. I mean, how long were they when you took the suckers from the parent?

Earl - Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 11:22 PM

I didn't know you could take suckers from a tomato plant and grow clones. I wonder how big the suckers were that you planted in the styrofoam cups. I mean, how long were they when you took the suckers from the parent?

Moe Terry - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 10:32 AM

Yes, the suckers from the Cherokee purple are some of the easiest to propogate I have ever done. Just pinch off and place in good potting soil in either styrofoam cups or the small peat pots, and keep moist. Because they are such a vigorus grower, roots will sprout in just a couple of days and would be ready for transplant in about 1 1/2 weeks. I broke off a branch by accident about 8 inches tall and put the end in potting soil in a styrfoam cup and was amazed at how fast it took root and it is now in the garden again. I also find the roots are very tough making it an all round healthy plant. I'm at work with two of them ready for lunch- co workers have tried them last week and are wanting some of my lunch, I will share as they are large tomatoes. I'll try to send a picture of these beauties!!

Moe Terry - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 11:53 AM

To Earl, The suckers are about 3 inches at pinch off, put into soil about 1/2 their length and water well. I'm going to start 3 more this evening for a friend. We plant early spring here about mid march and again before the fourth of July for a fall crop of which we have harvested up to Dec 15th. I am glad to have found this magnificent tomato, out preforms even the BHN 444 (Southern Star) I live near Augusta Ga. Hot, humid and heavenly- love it!!!

Earl - Friday, June 27, 2008 at 9:30 AM

Moe, I really like your idea of planting the suckers. Thanks for your tips. You have given me an idea. You know how as a tomato plant ages, the bottom branches can dry up and fall off? The disease usually works its way up from the bottom of the plant to the top of the plant. When this disease process kicks in, the plant's tomato producing productivity declines dramatically.

Well, my idea is if/when this happens in my garden toward the end of summer, I will take a healthy looking sucker from the tops of the diseased tomato plants and put them in pots, as you did. Maybe a new root structure will do the plant some good and give it new life. I am wondering if I can convert a diseased or dying tomato plant into a healthy plant that will produce a second season of tomatoes. Here in Arkansas, as in Georgia, it's hot and humid. I usually get tomatoes up until November. I'll try to remember this cloning idea later this summer, maybe the last week of July.

I would love to see any pictures of your tomatoes or plants. I plan to share more about my plants and tomatoes as the summer progresses. Happy growing!

David Smith - Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 8:45 PM

Here's a suggestion about propagating tomatoes from suckers.  Place each sucker in its own disposable 12 oz. clear plastic drinking water bottle.  Refill the bottle with tap water.  Set the bottles of water with the suckers in them in full sun.  Be sure to check the water level every day or two.  The neck of the bottle acts as a perfect holder.  In two weeks or less, the suckers develop roots that are much longer and more vigorous than if you had transplanted them directly into soil.

This works with every indeterminate variety of tomato plant I have tried.  I have not yet attempted it with a determinate variety.  I use suckers at least four inches in length for my garden here in Kentucky.  

The kids and grandkids think all those roots growing in bottles of water (prior to transplanting into soil, of course) are pretty neat.  Happy gardening!   

joann - Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 1:19 PM

this is our first year with this puple tomato and we are waiting patiently for the first one to ripen ,, has any one used a garden box with this perticular plant  I have had success with others  thought I might try starting a sucker in it any advice  

Raul - Friday, July 25, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Good morning!!! I'm spanish boy, I produce some cherokee's purple tomatoes, I think is the best i taste. But the plants are not very productives.

Sorry for my english...

Gerry Boy - Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 4:18 PM

Yesterday, Aug. 4, I picked my first Cherokee Purple (aka Black).  I've never tasted a better tomato. Low acidy, rich, complex flavor. I practically swooned.  Shared a slice with my farmer neighbor who was unaware of the variety. He said later  it was the best tasting tomato he's ever experienced.  While the Cherokee may not be the prettiest in the garden, they proves once again that beauty is only skin deep. 

hippielady - Friday, August 29, 2008 at 11:24 AM

I live in the Asheville area and grew Cherokee purples this year. This must be the perfect climate because I have had tons of large beautiful tomatoes! After many tomato pies,BLT's, salads and slices I am over them. They continue to prolifically produce. My question is has anyone tried making tomato sauce or drying them or preserving them in any manor? HELP!

Mark - Monday, September 1, 2008 at 6:56 PM

Hi Earl,
Trying something different this year as I have raised one cherokee this year but I left it in the pot to grow and so I added Root blast to it and placed the pot on top of my shed roof and it is doing better and is making progress with a few tomatoes and very impressed so far for a plant that did not do well and I was giving up on it but glad I waited to see. I find that the Cherokee will droop and you need to give them water every day in the pot and on there on that roof with that hit on the shingles, I can not complain so far. Will send some pics later but they are still green on this 1st of Sept in 2008.

Earl - Monday, September 1, 2008 at 7:46 PM

Hi Mark...  Good to hear from  you.  Interesting that you put a plant on top of a shed.  It gets too hot down here in Arkansas for such a trick... it would be like putting a plant on a stove top and cooking it.  I guess in CT, you can get away with that.

Good luck with the green ones and I look forward to seeing your pics.

Cel - Monday, September 1, 2008 at 11:56 PM

Hi from Toronto
I 'm interested in all the rave reviews the cherokee purple is getting on this site. I've grown some plants for the first time this year.  The fruit that I've tasted in the last week is bland and watery. We have had record rainfall in Toronto this year. Is that the problem? Thanks

Earl - Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 12:50 PM

What variety of tomato are you growing?  From my experience, the variety of tomato chosen is the biggest determining factor for flavor.  Examples of tomatoes that were bland to me include the Celebrity and Marglobe.  Those are a couple varieties sold at local stores, probably because they are easy to grow and disease resistant.  I will never waste my time growing those again, since I grow tomatoes specifically for the flavor, which I cannot seem to find at the grocery stores.

Cel - Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 10:11 PM

Hi from Toronto
Sorry I didn't make myself clear last night.
The bland watery tomatoes are cherokee purple. The starter plants were bought from a Newtonville, Ontario organic plant grower. I am surprised at all the rave reviews here for this species. After my  experience this year I wont grow it again.
I've spoken to some experienced gardeners in the Toronto area who say that a very wet summer produces bland tasting tomatoes. Any comments? Thanks.

Earl - Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 11:20 PM

Oh, you did grow Cherokee Purples.  I'm surprised you think they are bland.  

To make sure you really have Cherokee Purples:  Do your tomatoes resemble the appearance of those tomatoes shown on this page?  Do you see green shoulders on the tops of the tomatoes?  What size fruit are you getting?  

Do you see splitting of the fruit?  My tomatoes split after too much water.  

You say that you have had a very wet summer.  With rain comes clouds.  I guess if it has been cloudy many days, the plants didn't get enough good sunlight.  I'm wondering how much sunlight your garden gets.  Most of my plants get direct sunlight for about 9 hours each day in the middle of summer:  11 AM ~ 8 PM,  with some morning shade from trees.  Photo synthesis is required to produce the desirable ratio of sugars to acid that gives a tomato it's complex flavor.

Cel - Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 9:00 PM

Hi from Toronto

Thanks for your comments. My cherokees are exactly like those shown here. The unripened green crown, the flecks of unripe pulp in  the slices near the top of the tomatoe  and the dust pink colour of the bottom two thirds of the fruit.
My tomatoes range from 3 inches to 5 inches in diameter. They are split on top - all of them. The old time gardeners here are not complaining of lack of sunshine this year but they blame the monsoonlike weather we have had here in Southern Ontario.  All records for rainfall have been broken. How much rainfall is there in areas where tasty fruit is produced? Does Arkansas have much summer rain? Do you water your plants at all or do you leave it up to mother nature to handle that? Thanks.

Earl - Tuesday, September 4, 2008 at 9:15 PM

You might have it figured out.  It could be that too much water is taking the sweetness out of your tomatoes.  Here in Arkansas, it's usually pretty dry in the summer.  I had a few weeks in a row this summer with no rain, plus is was very hot ( highs around 90F ~ 104F, 32 C ~ 40 C).  I did supplement the garden with water using city water through a hose.  If I didn't, all my plants would be dead.  Now I have a Cherokee Purple plant that is 6 feet tall and the harshest part of summer is over.  I'm hoping for a bunch of new tomatoes to grow now that it's cooling off.  Perhaps the limited moisture and the heat helps make tomatoes sweeter... to give them more flavor.  When it's hot, the tomatoes grow very slowly.  Perhaps your tomatoes grew too fast and didn't get sweet enough.  It could be a combination of moisture and temperature.  

Edie - Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:12 AM

This is my 4th year of harvesting the Cherokee purple.  I'm from Or., we get a mix of rain & sun.  This is the best tomato we have ever tasted.  I have gotten some as big as 1 1/2 lb. & as small as just a little bigger than a cheery.  You can't let them ripen on the vine if you want them firm.  However if you want to make salsa or sauce, let them.  It makes a great sauce.  I grow them in raised planters about 2 ft. high, 6 ft. long, 3 ft wide.  I also use chicken manure & lime.  The lime keeps the black bottom away & the chicken manure makes them big.  The plant gets about 2/ 1/2ft. tall & spreads over the sides of the planter & out into the yard about 2 ft.  Last year I picked over 200 lb. off this one bush.  I have no pics. 

We shared with neighbors, family & people at church.  Our dog picked his own off the plant, wish I had pics. of that.  I guess you need a camera for that.  They were comming out of our ears, so to speak. 

I too didn't know you could use a sucker to make a starter.  I think I'll try that next year.  I'm glad I didn't quit after the first year when we got the black bottom.  The soil I get, doesn't have the best nutrients in it.  That's when I decided to use chicken manure & lime for the following years.  We don't have a long time to grow here.  Mid, to late, Sept. it is all over.  But I can plant in mid May. 

Does anyone know how to prepare a seed for planting?  I'm not sure if you need to dry them first or not,& if so how.  Thanks for providing a place to talk & read about these toms.

Pat - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 11:07 PM

My husband was given a Cherokee purple plant this year.  We planted it in a patio pot and it has looked good and healthy all summer.  The tomatoes grew, got ripe...then suddenly started getting a band around the center.  Upon closer inspection it was being devoured by a brownish-gray bug about the size of a thumbnail.  Tonight I carefully took all the tomatoes and foliage off the plant and put them in a bag as they were all covered with these bugs.  Any thoughts on what they were?  I have looked up photos of stink bugs and they don't really look like them.  Thanks.

Mary - Friday, September 26, 2008 at 4:51 PM

Some friends of mine planted "cherokee purple" tomatoes this year...21 plants to be exact.  I had never heard of them before.  They canned and canned and ate and ate and had so many they asked me if I needed tomatoes...well of course I said, bring them over!  They brought over about 4 bushel.  They were the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had!  I canned over 100 pints of salsa and spaghetti sauce and am still canning!  They make the most beautiful dark, rich looking sauce ever.  That is why I am on the web right now....looking for some seeds for next year so I can plant my own!

Greg - Friday, October 10, 2008 4:40 PM

[The following message with picture was received as an email.]

Hey Earl,

I grew this in my garden this year. It is one of those Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Ying Yang Tomato - Cherokee Purple
Ying Yang Tomato

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Flamethrower - Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 5:05 PM

I am looking to purchase cherokee starter tomatoe plants. Is there a company I can try?  I am afraid to try by seed.
Thank you

        Derrald - Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 15:56:45

Dear Flamethrower,
I just saw your message and this website for the first time.
It is April 1, 2009.  You can purchase Cherokee Purple starter plant from several seed and plant companies.  One of the best and one of my favorites is Seed Savers Exhchange.  I think that they have a website a

Good Luck!

Wes - Monday, October 27, 2008 at 6:09 PM

Hi---I've been growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes for over ten years. I've given seeds to many friends and now some of the starters have shown up at the county co-ops. The first mention of Cherokee Purple tomatoes is from Tennessee before 1840. The plants were grown by the Cherokee Indians in the valley of the Tennessee River in East Tennessee. Enjoy!

Rick & Nan - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

[The following message with picture was received as an email.]

Hey Earl - we were looking at your pictures of the Cherokee Purple tomatos and thought you would like to see our pictures from last season.  Three years ago I bought three Cherokee Purple plants at Earth Fare in Asheville.  We liked them so much that year that we saved the seeds from just one tomato.  That single tomato produced 89 plants the following year - and the rest, as they say, is history.  Here is a picture of my husband in his tomato patch. 


Some of these plants reached over 12' tall.  I canned and canned and finally bought a dehydrator and dried some.  Amazing.  We are in Murphy, NC. 

Harold - Monday, February 2, 2009 at 3:55 PM

I need ripe cherokee purple tomatoes May 5th, 2009 for a tomatoe tasting. Do you where I can get them, South America?

Spencer - Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 2:15 PM

I have lived in mexico for four years and been visiting yearly for 9 years.  I have NEVER had a tasty tomato until yesterday. I bought some purple Cherokees at an organic market in Oaxaca Mexico. I went back today and bought all the mexican woman had. it is March 28, 2009. I have saved the seeds.  the woman said she will have more next week. Again these are the first good tasting tomato I have ever had in Mexico in nine years.  I will likely have to take into account rain every day but only late afternoon or night May to Oct and no rain Oct to May. May is the hotest month of the year so likely these will do best planted in Sept. then again this Mexican woman has them NOW?

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