25 Unique and Colorful Heirloom Tomatoes

Colorful ripe heirloom tomatoes over gray table viewed from above
istetiana/Getty Images

The term "heirloom" tomato often refers to a species with pure genetics—a "parent" species that is not the product of hybridization. These are open-pollinated tomatoes, meaning that they are pollinated by physical transmission of pollen from one flower to the next, either by hand, by wind, or by insects. Unlike most hybrid tomatoes, these produce seeds that "come true," germinating and sprouting into plants that look the same as the host plant. There are a number of seed-saver organizations that are largely responsible for preserving these heirloom varieties, and many are now offered for sale by seed companies.

There is an increasing amount of interest in heirloom tomatoes, since they often have very unusual appearances and are sometimes more flavorful than hybrid tomatoes, which have been selectively bred to have bright red color, long shelf life, and a predictable taste. Many of thee heirloom tomatoes produce fruits that are black, purple, brown, yellow, pink, and white. And some of the most interesting are bi-colored and striped.

These are the party favors of the tomato world and once you've grown these festive fruits, your garden (and kitchen) will never be the same. The sheer popularity of heirloom tomatoes has opened the door to some selective crosses between heirlooms, which produce varieties that are technically hybrids, but which are still open-pollinated plants regarded in the trade as heirlooms.

Genetics of Heirloom Tomatoes

Most heirloom tomatoes are cultivars or crosses derived from the Lycopersicon lycopersicum species. Most commercial hybrid tomatoes, however, belong to the Lycopersicon esculentum species. (Some experts argue that tomatoes more properly belong to the Solanum genus, the former designation.) The L. lycopersicum species is originally native to western South America, but it has been cultivated so long that many varieties have now become associated with the regions where they gained popularity—from West Virginia to Russia.

Tomatoes in general, including L. lycopersicum, are perennial plants in USDA hardiness zones 10–11, but they are grown as annual plants in any zone where there is a sufficiently long and warm growing season, from zones 3 to 11. In far northern climates, these tomatoes are sometimes grown in green houses in order to achieve the 75 to 90 days required for the plants to mature and produce fruit. Southern gardeners may grow them as perennials. These are indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they continue to produce fruit for the entire growing season after they mature.

For gardeners looking for some different (and delicious) varieties to try, here's are 25 open-pollinated, heirloom tomatoes that show up with surprising colors and patterns.

Caution

Delicious though the fruits of tomatoes are, these are members of the nightshade family of plants, and the leaves and roots contain a toxin called solanine, an alkaloid substance that can, in high doses, kill animals and cause nausea, hallucinations, and death in humans. Fortunately, ingestion of the bitter leaves and roots is quite rare—after all, these plant species "learned" to concentrate solanine in their leaves and roots as an evolutionary defense mechanism to prevent animals from eating them. Occasionally, however, grazing animals have been known to be poisoned by tomato plants.

  • 01 of 25

    Beauty King (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Beauty King')

    'Beauty King' is a beautiful tomato that is yellow with red stripes outside, with meat that is yellow with red streaking. The fruits, about 1 pound each, have a fruit, sweet taste. This indeterminate tomato requires about 80 days to mature. This plant was developed by crossing 'Big Rainbow' with 'Green Zebra' heirlooms.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 02 of 25

    Beauty Queen (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Beauty Queen')

    'Beauty Queen' is a prolific producer of small-to-medium-size tomatoes (no more than 8 ounces) that have clearly defined red and yellow stripes. The fruit is round; the flesh is yellow.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 03 of 25

    Big Rainbow (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Big Rainbow')

    These 2-pound tomatoes have green shoulders, a yellow midsection, and neon red streaks running through them. It is a terrific slicing variety, with a delicious old-fashioned tomato taste. It has surprisingly good resistance to disease when compared to other heirlooms.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–8 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 04 of 25

    Mr. Stripey (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Mr. Stripey')

    This beefsteak-type tomato is low in acid, offering a mild flavor in a meaty fruit. Its base color is yellow and has red streaks. The fruits are quite large—up to 24 ounces. This is a very full, vigorous grower, so sturdy cages should be used to support and contain the plant.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 8–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 5 of 25 below.
  • 05 of 25

    Copia (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Copia')

    This is a newer open-pollinated variety that's an extremely unique-looking tomato. The skin has fine striping of brilliant gold and neon red. The flesh is swirled red and yellow. The fruits are juicy and flavorful, weighing about 1 pound each. This plant is a cross between 'Green Zebra' and 'Marvel Stripe'.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 06 of 25

    Csikos Botermo (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Csikos Botermo')

    Popularized in Hungary, 'Ciskos Botermo' is a sweet, cluster tomato that has lovely yellow stripes on red skin. It's rare and colorful. The orange-red fruits are about 21/2 inches in size, and are excellent in salads or for canning.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 07 of 25

    Black Krim (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Black Krim')

    This juicy, medium-to-large fruit is traditionally grown on the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea. It's a deep purple with green shoulders and has a rich and tangy flavor. It is a favorite of fine chefs, and is considered one of the most nutritious of all tomatoes.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 36–40 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 08 of 25

    Gajo De Melon (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Gajo De Melon')

    These little pink and yellow marbled cherry tomatoes taste like tomato, melon, and sugar stirred together. The fruits are slightly larger than a typical cherry tomato, with a taste that is more like a beefsteak.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 9 of 25 below.
  • 09 of 25

    Georgia Streak (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Georgia Streak')

    This 2-pound heirloom, made popular in the U.S. state of Georgia, is a big beefsteak-type with yellow and red flesh. Its outer skin is yellow with a red blush. This tomato has better shelf-life than most heirloom tomatoes.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 10 of 25

    Gold Medal (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Gold Medal')

    This gorgeous variety is predominately yellow but has a rose blush radiating up from the blossom end of the fruit. It's mild and sweet with very little acid. It makes a great slicing tomato. The large fruits (1 to 2 pounds) have a slightly flattened shape.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 11 of 25

    Green Zebra (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Green Zebra')

    Green zebra tomato
    Green Zebra Tomatoes Photo © Molly Watson

    This is a favorite chef's variety that's extremely striking in color, with yellow-gold skin and stripes of lime green. It has a rich, sweet flavor that gives just a little bite—an excellent taste. The fruits are relatively small, about 3–4 ounces.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 30–40 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 12 of 25

    HillBilly (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Hillbilly')

    Traditionally grown in West Virginia, 'Hillbilly' has 4- to 6-inch flattened yellow fruits that have rose "flames" on its skin and throughout the flesh. It's been described as meaty, creamy, rich, and sweet. It's also crack-resistant and makes a gorgeous slicing tomato.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–5 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 13 of 25 below.
  • 13 of 25

    Isis Candy Cherry (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Isis Candy Cherry')

    This is a sweet and fruity cherry tomato that comes in different shades with blushed patterns on them. Usually, they have a "cat's eye" at the blossom end. The fruits are about 11/2 inches, growing in clusters of six to eight.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–7 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 14 of 25

    Marizol Gold (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Marizol Gold')

    This heirloom was made popular in Germany in the 1800s. These are flattened, deeply ribbed, red-and-gold bicolor tomatoes. It's a prolific producer with delicious flavor. It's great as a slicing tomato or in salads.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 15 of 25

    Mary Robinson's German Bicolor (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Mary Robinson's German Bicolor')

    This is a large, yellow fruit with lots of red shading and stripes. It's sweet and mild in flavor. The fruits work best as slicing tomatoes.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 16 of 25

    Nature's Riddle (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Nature's Riddle')

    'Nature's Riddle' first arrived North America from Kazakhstan in 2000. This Russian tomato is golden-yellow with salmon-pink streaks and blushes. The fruits weigh 12 to 16 ounces, with a sweet flavor and meaty texture. It is known as a low-acid tomato.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 17 of 25 below.
  • 17 of 25

    Old German (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Old German')

    Southern Exposure Seed Exchange introduced this Mennonite family heirloom in 1985. The outer skin is a warm yellow with red striping; the flesh is yellow with a red center. The fruits often weigh more than 1 pound and have an outstanding flavor

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 18 of 25

    Pineapple (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Ananas')

    This 2-pound tomato is beautiful to serve with its yellow skin and red marbling. It has a sweet and fruity flavor.The flesh is meaty, with few seeds, and resembles the flesh of a pineapple.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 3–5 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 19 of 25

    Plum Tigris (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Plum Tigris')

    These 4-ounce fruits are plum-shaped and have unusual bright red and yellow stripes. It has good flavor. This is a fairly compact plant, good for growing in confined spaces. The fruits are best for sauces and tomato pastes, rather than for fresh eating.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 30–36 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 20 of 25

    Red Zebra (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Red Zebra')

    This is 'Green Zebra' in a fire-engine-red dress with bright yellow stripes. The inner flesh is a darker red, very juicy and full of flavor. The fruits are 2 to 3 inches in size and have many uses in the kitchen.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–7 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 21 of 25 below.
  • 21 of 25

    Schimmeig Stoo/Striped Cavern (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Schimmeig Stoo')

    'Schimmeig Stoo' is a striped tomato, with a bell pepper shape and hollow inner cavity that can be stuffed with savory fillings for baking. It is often sold under its translated name, 'Striped Cavern'. The fruits are dark red with yellow striping.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 22 of 25

    Striped Roman/ Speckled Roman (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Striped Roman')

    'Striped Roman' is an amazing-looking variety that you'll never recognize as a tomato. The fruit’s unique shape is cylindrical, 3 x 5 inches long, and pointy. The base color is red, with wavy yellow stripes. It's a meaty and excellent-flavored tomato.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 4–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 23 of 25

    Tigerella (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Tigerella')

    'Tigerella' produces smallish 2-inch fruits, quite similar to 'Green Zebra', except they are red rather than green. 'Tigerella' is dressed in bright red with orange stripes This popular variety from England is an early producer and very prolific even in cool summer areas. It is known for being disease-resistant. It is quite a large plant, often trained on a trellis.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 8–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 24 of 25

    Turkish Striped Monastery (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Turkish Striped Monastery')

    'Turkish Striped Monastary' is a cherry-type heirloom with 2-inch fruit that is striped red and gold. It has great flavor and is a high producer. This variety is said to have been developed in a monastery outside Istanbul, Turkey. It has a zesty taste that is slightly sweet.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 3–4 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 25 of 25 below.
  • 25 of 25

    Williams Striped (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Williams Striped')

    'Williams Striped' is a beautiful large tomato with a slightly flattened shape. The skin and flesh that are red and white. The large, quick-growing fruits have luscious flavor, and can reach 2 pounds in size. This is an excellent slicing tomato for sandwiches. It is a large plant that will require staking.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 6–8 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

Gardening Tip

You'll boost your chances of tomato success by planting them in soil that's loaded with organic matter and making sure that the variety you choose does well in your area (or at least doesn't hate it).

Check the "days to harvest" to be sure that the plants will receive enough days of heat to produce well for you. Specific guidance can be found at the seed company that you're purchasing your seeds from or contact your Cooperative Extension Office.