Cool sport of Green Zebra heirloom

puffie(6)September 5, 2012

One of my green zebra tomato plants produced its first fruit today and it looks nothing like my usual green zebras! Has anyone seen an ORANGE zebra before?

The two tomatoes are the same ripeness (perfectly ripe, if you ask me!) but the one on the right is my "usual" green zebra, and the one on the left is the fancy new one. It's hard to see in the picture, but in addition to the green striping, there are faint red stripes, too.

So, is it really something new, or is it just new to me? I'd love to see pictures of other people's unusual varieties as well!

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Both of my plants gave both the pictured ones above. To get the one on the left, I simply left them on the plant longer. Flavor was awesome on both.

And, Green Zebra is a somewhat recent offering by Tom Wagner. Most people call it "Open Pollinated" and reserve the term "Heirloom" for those tomatoes handed down from generation to generation within a family.

Bottom line is that (in my opinion) the picture above is not unique.


    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 5:17PM
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Too bad! I've been growing this tomato from saved seeds for about 5 years, and I've never seen a tomato like the one on the left. Maybe the plants I've been growing just tend towards more green (I am probably unintentionally selecting for greener fruit when I choose which tomato's seeds to save). Maybe this orange one is just reverting back?

Interesting take on heirlooms. Although it is just semantics, I should think Green Zebra has "aged" to the point of being allowable as an heirloom. I would argue that many of the named varieties of "heirloom" tomatoes were discovered somewhere and their actual age is unknown (ie. Black Krim-discovered in the 1990's, Brandywine-showed up in a seed catalog in 1982, etc). They could be older or younger than Green Zebra. The world may never know.

...That said, I grow an Italian beefsteak tomato whose seeds were given to me by my great uncle before he died. He carried the seeds with him when he came to America, and my family has been growing it since. It is absolutely delicious. I do find myself referring to that tomato as a "true heirloom".

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 7:58PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Tom Wagner's take on what an heirloom variety is is that it's treasured, so that makes all of the ones he bred heirlooms, in his opinion, which is not generally shared by others.

There's thread after thread here at GW and elsewhere trying to define what an heirloom is, at least for tomatoes, and there never is consensus and never will be.

But I think it's generally agreed that the intent of the word heirloom was to designate varieties, named, or subsequently named, that have been grown by a family for a generation or two or three.

And the above would be for the category that most call family heirlooms, for there are other categories and other definitions as well.

One of my major interests through the years has been the histories of individual varieties, again, some named, some named and the name forgotten so renamed, and on and on.

And I agree with Ted that I too have gotten fruits like you show as well, and it's normal, at least for me/

Back in the early 90's I trialed 22 varieties for Tom and one of them was actually named Orange Zebra. it was a terrible variety, I told Tom so and he never pursued it, thank heavens. LOL


    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 10:21AM
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I have grown GZs for a while now, and the one pictured above looks like just one that is more ripe. I actually let most of mine get to this ripenes... I think they taste better. It does take them a long time to turn to this color, which is maybe why you have not seen it before. In fact, the first two years I grew them, I never knew that they would turn to this. I happened to go to a buddy's house and his looked like yours, and he explained to me that he just leaves them on the vine for a longer time.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:18AM
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Interestingly, I was looking at a picture of Brad's variety "Porkchop" and it was a dead ringer for the tomato on the left in the picture above. But, I get both color schemes shown in the picture from the same plant and, like the post before, I just let the fruit ripen a bit more.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 3:39PM
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I agree with the previous two posters. I don't pick Green Zebras until they blush yellow, and I let them yellow up considerably. They're much sweeter when fully ripe. Actually, I initially had reservations about this tomato at first, as they are on quite a few "spitter" lists here on Gardenweb. They ended up being one of my favorites, and I've come to suspect many people who dislike them are eating them before they're fully ripe.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 11:19PM
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Thank you, Carolyn, for your perspective on "heirloom."
John A

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 2:27PM
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hi I bought a small plant at the nursery all it said was heirloom red zebra !! that was in april I now have a plant with huge green striped tomatoes and am thinking they are GREEN zebra ....... how on earth do I know

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 12:06PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

There is a Red Zebra, see the link below but not very popular as to taste from feedback that I've seen.

IT was Jeff Dawson who selected it from an oftype GZ. it turns out that GZ seems to cross easily with other varieties.

Many years ago a friend in Indiana sent me saved seeds from GZ and there were seveal different colors, some with stripes, some not. But the taste of them was NOT good so I never saved seed.


Here is a link that might be useful: Red Zebra

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 12:42PM
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fcivish(Zone 6 Utah)

Tom Wagner, the breeder of Green Zebra once remarked something to the effect that Green Zebra was such a storehouse of recessive genes that it was generally fairly easy to see when it outcrossed. Because the crossed genes would cause changes in the color, size, appearance or similar things. He contended that it didn't outcross more frequently than other tomatoes, just that people noticed it.

What you have in your picture up there might be just such an outcross. Certainly, over the years there have been many strains of tomatoes that derived from Green Zebra in just that way. Only time will tell, but quite likely, you have a new, natural outcross there, from something else in your garden last year.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 3:32AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I am back. After some debates and search and suggestions, I have finally decided to grow a Green Zebra next season. The other so-called GREENs did not appeal to me. Green Zebra has an appropriate descriptive name and you can tell pretty much when it is ripe and it can show nice contrast in a basket of red tomatoes. That is the part that I eat with my eyes.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 9:48PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

While you're at it why don't you grow Green Zebra Cherry, not known to be related to Tom's Green Zebra.

Many of us find that Green Zebra Cherry tastes much better than Green Zebra which I think you can see when you look at the link below and see that 7 different seed sites are offering it in 2013.


Here is a link that might be useful: Green Zebra Cherry

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 3:43AM
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I grew Red Zebra last year, and agree that it was not worth saving any seed.
I always let the Green Zebras get some of the gold striping on them before harvesting.
John A

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 9:14AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

I like Black and Brown Boar. It tastes good and has been productive.

When my Green Zebras were very ripe they developed a yellow color but not that yellow.

Here is a link that might be useful: Black and Brown Boar

This post was edited by helenh on Sat, Sep 14, 13 at 9:32

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 9:30AM
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fcivish(Zone 6 Utah)

I posted this on another thread, but I thought it might benefit from being repeated here.

One of the biggest problems with the green tomatoes is that most people aren't confident in them, and they let them ripen way too much. I agree that Green Zebra, Green Grape, Evergreen, and almost all of the green tomatoes have this same problem. When they are over ripe they are absolutely and simply horrid. Unfortunately, that is how most people eat them.

Yet done properly, they are delightful. Green Grape (when it isn't too ripe) has a nice sweet-tangy flavor. Green Zebra, when it isn't too ripe, is something special. Aunt Rubys German Green is one of my top 10 favorite tomatoes. Period.

Here is the trick with Green Zebra (and Green Grape and most green tomatoes): First, get used to TOUCHING your tomatoes. Not just these, but others, so you can learn some comparison. An unripe (green) tomato, no matter WHAT its eventual color should be, will always FEEL unripe and hard. But when a tomato is significantly on the way to ripeness, it will begin to soften. THAT is when you pick and eat Green Zebra, and the others. In addition, Green Zebra and Green Grape (but not all green tomatoes), will start to blush just a bit yellow. A tint to part of the outer skin (but the flesh remains green, and most of the skin is till clearly very green). That is when you should pick them and eat them. And they should still have just a bit of firmness, LIKE YOU WOULD EXPECT WITH ALMOST ANY TOMATO. No matter the color or variety, any tomato that is too soft is almost surely over ripe, and past its flavor peak. (Paste tomatoes possibly being one exception.) Some tomatoes tolerate this softness and over-ripeness, somewhat, but green tomatoes are almost universally undesirable when they are too soft and over ripe. In addition, Green Zebra and Green Grape and some other greens will eventually start to get ORANGE tints to their skin. That is usually going too far. Just a slight hint of orange might be okay, but if there is very much orange at all in the skin, it is too ripe. Other green tomatoes don't get this orange, but they frequently get very dark green (not the medium green you would expect). Again, too ripe.

Green varieties of tomatoes are delicious. If you haven't tried them, you really should. You owe it to yourself to experience them, when ripened to the right degree. Far from just a novelty, they are very WORTHY of inclusion by any tomato connoisseur. But they are a BIT more difficult than a standard tomato, because you need to be able to judge their ripeness, without the OBVIOUS color change that comes to red tomatoes. If you learn to gauge ripeness by feel and the subtle color changes, it will also help you with orange, black and purple tomatoes, all of which are also sometimes difficult to gauge properly.

So please experiment. Try them. And pick some of them as soon as they start to show a sign of softness. What do you have to lose? Are you afraid it might be TOO GREEN? So what? Deal with it. Then give them just 3 or 4 days and try again. Once you learn it, you will be happy you did.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 1:06PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Good post.

I've grown lots of GW Ripes and I suggest the following.

Almost all of them have an amber blush when ripe, not yellow, so look for that. And many of the larger ones also can have a pink blush at the blossom end.

If folks are still confused about when they are ripe I suggest growing some GWRipe cherries, such as Green Zebra Cherry, Green Doctors, for instance, and when the fruits on a truss start to ripen start picking ones nearest the stem , b/c they ripen first, and go down that truss and sample the others so you know what the progression of ripeness is, and find what tastes best to you.

There are some, such as Verde Claro and Green Doctors Frosted that have a clear epidermis so you won't see the typical amber blush with those.

It reminds me of the situation when Sungold F1 first became available and folks were picking them too soon, when they were yellow, and not waiting until the fruits had turned orange.

Carolyn, who LOVES GWRipes

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 1:25PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Now getting near to the moment of truth.
I first dug up this thread and posted a comment on 13 Sep. 013.
Now I have a GZ in my garden with few fruits, the largest about a gulf ball size. It has not yet any stripes. So I think it will be growing bigger. I planted GZ despite some unfavorable comments. I like to have tomatoes of all different race and colors.:-). I have red, pink, brown, purple, yellow and green varieties.
The plant is relatively small and short (~ 4ft). That is a plus to me. I planted it out on or about April 25th. Geeez. that is like 100 days ago. Blame it on our PNW climate. But on the positive side, lately we've been getting good tomato weather: L58F to H89F (heat wave up here), bright sunny, no rain. I drink to that.

So let us here how is your Green Zebra doing, so far

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 3:46AM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

I have 2 that I THINK are GZ. Until something ripens I won't swear to it. They could turn out to be a red striped something-or-other. But I'm hoping they will be GZ. Both plants are loaded with tennis-ball sized fruits and the stripes are very evident, but they are all still hard as rocks so it will be a while. ("Have patience, Grasshopper!" HAHAHA!!)

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 12:30PM
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Seysonn - They never get really big, but bigger than golf ball. Mine are taking longer than others this year. Let them get the yellow blush like the left one. They will still be fairly tart but have more flavor.
John A

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 2:22PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Thanks Edie and John.
I hope yours turn out as you've expected.
Mine showing some hint of stripes. It is planted in the fron bed and should be a good display spot as well.

Lots of anticipation.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 3:18PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

My Green Zebras are getting Green. hehe
So how do you tell that they are getting there ?
O' yes. They should get yellow. So why they are not called "Yellow" zebra ? It is confusing folks. Even they call brown tomatoes "Black" or "purple"

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:20AM
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Seysonn - The green stripes are still there when ripe.
John A

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 11:37AM
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HotHabaneroLady(7a Central MD)

I'm harvesting green zebras periodically. Nothing seems to have a heavy yield this year, and green zebras are not exception. I still get a handful though.

The resident animal population (mostly squirrels) sometimes beats me to the fruit. For some reason, they seem to especially like unripe green zebras. They pretty much leave my other tomatoes alone, but I find half eaten unripe green zebras pretty regularly.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 1:45PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)


Finally I tasted my first Green Zebra today, that I had picked it 2 days ago. It was just right, with some hint of yellow, not too much. It also felt squeezable . lol

Tasted very good, actually. Well balanced, not tart, slightly sweet, juicy. I LIKED IT.
I changed my mind on zapping it, despite the fact that its has been very late.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 10:21AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Anybody else is harvesting Green Zebra?
How do you know when it is the right time ?


    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 5:02AM
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HotHabaneroLady(7a Central MD)

I've been harvesting my green zebras for a while now. Mine have yellow and green stripes when ripe instead of green and light green. Take a look at the photos posted by the original poster in this thread. The one on the left is ripe.

Also, a ripe green zebra will be softer. Not squishy, but it will have a bit of give in it. It won't be as rock solid as an unripe one. It will feel like a ripe tomato. The OP said the one on the right also was ripe. The only way I could tell without it changing color like the one on the left would be by touch.

It seems like they change to the touch before they develop the yellow color. But I wait for the yellow before harvesting. :)


    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 8:42AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Thanks Angie.

The only one that I harvested and tasted was like the one on the right side of the picture, i.e. more green, not much yellow but it was sure ripe, soft and juicy. I was expecting tart taste but not so.
So anyway, after flip floping , GZ is back on my grow list.
To complete my color combination, I am looking for an orange yellow variety. I don't like the pale yellows that are almost white. I think KBX or Golden Jubilee is it.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 2:52PM
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HotHabaneroLady(7a Central MD)

I am kind of curious about the OP's tomatoes. She said the two tomatoes in the photo are both equally ripe, but the one on the right really doesn't look ripe. I've not seen mine ripen without the color changing and I don't think I've read about anyone else having them ripen with no color change at all. But it is my first year growing them.

I've fallen in love with Azoychka this year. If you want a tart tomato heavy on the acidic taste, then Azoychka is it. It really reminds me of lemon juice. And it's sunny yellow. So maybe that's one to consider?


    Bookmark   September 3, 2014 at 8:14AM
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GZs that are green can be fully ripe. They just are not as ripe as the one pictured on the left above. I pick them at both stages and everywhere in between. Less tart and more sweetness as they yellow up.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2014 at 6:14PM
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