By DAVID WALL
Ever notice the little hairs on tomato plants? Some varieties are sparsely covered, while others are almost fuzzy. They’re called trichomes. They can be long, short, sometimes so short they look like tiny bubbles on the skin surface, or a mixture of the two. Regardless, they have a very important role to play in your tomato plant’s development.
The tiny, bubbly trichomes secret oils that give the tomato plant its familiar scent. When the plant is under stress by pests, the scent can be changed so the pests will find the plant’s scent or taste unappealing. While we’ve all experienced tomato plants where this did no good in deterring a pest or pests, particularly tomato hornworms, what’s unknown is how devastating would the pest have been without the altered oils. Basically, the oils form a barrier to deter fungi, bacteria, and viral infections. They also help trap water while reducing evaporation.
SO, what happens if you continually touch the plant and rub off some of the essential oils? First, it leaves the plant more open to infection. The area will repair itself, but it remains vulnerable until the wound is healed. So, in addition to careful handling, particularly when shaking for greenhouse pollination, be very careful when pruning.
Second, a lot of handling will cause the essential oils to accumulate on your hands and fingers. In color, it starts out as yellow, but as it builds up, it becomes caked on and the color turns to black, leading to the terms tomato fingers or tomato tar. Regardless, the material from essential oils is sticky, doesn’t wipe off very easily, and is not water soluble. To clean, first use plenty of hand sanitizer. Follow this up with water and soap!
The hairs provide aroma and protection. Try not to abuse them.
David Wall has a bachelor’s degree in forestry and a master’s degree in business management, which includes 269 college semester hours total with roughly 125 hours in earth science. After several years as the volunteer vegetable garden manager for NTCC, he retired and currently works as a gardening activist who writes a weekly column and lectures throughout northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma regarding soil health, plant intelligence, the dangers of GMO and global warming. He is a member of several major agriculture organizations.
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