For anyone who grows vegetable gardens, you’ll know how much of a pain weeds can be. They drain nutrients from the soil, consume the sunlight and water needed for the vegetables, and suffocate other plans. Even worse are weeds that look like tomato plants, which you risk overlooking until it’s too late and your crop is already damaged.
The best defense against these deceptive garden destroyers is knowing how to identify them earlier and rid them from your vegetable beds. Trust our identification guide in listing the common weeds that look like tomato plants and helping you tell the difference.
The weeds that most closely resemble tomato plants are as follows:
- Black nightshade
- Red Soda Apple
- Jamaican nightshade
- Horse nettle
- Litchi tomato
- Currant tomato
- Carolina wolfberry
Weeds that Look Like Tomato Plants
For tomatoes, which are one of the most common and easy to grow vegetables, there are several weeds that pose as these delicious food staples – either by the fruit, the leaves, roots, climates, etc.
While some of these weeds are relatively harmless or even edible, others are downright deadly. Fortunately, there are many ways to distinguish one plant from another, despite how similar their initial appearances may be.
Read on to learn more about the 7 common weeds that look like tomato plants.
1. Black Nightshade
This common weed, with its hairy, compound, and somewhat dainty leaves, resembles the tomato plant in more ways than one.
Before nightshade fruits, delicate white flowers bloom that then turn into round green berries that closely resemble cherry tomatoes. For many, the only definitive way to tell the difference is to wait until the fruit fully matures – the berries are a deep purple or black.
This weed is poisonous, especially when the berries are still green. It grows in thickets throughout the US in disturbed soil and near wooded areas.
2. Red Soda Apple
This perennial shrub has small red berries that closely resemble cherry tomatoes and spreads in a way similar to its popular lookalike. It is highly toxic and can be most positively identified by the prickles on its stems and leaves.
The red soda apple grows naturally in Brazil, and can be found in hot, tropical, or semitropical climates. In the United States, it is mainly found in southern Florida.
3. Jamaican Nightshade
Like black nightshade, Jamaican nightshade has reddish orange berries that closely resemble cherry tomatoes. The plant’s diamond shaped leaves are covered in stellate hairs, and while the Jamaican nightshade is considered a wild tomato plant, the fruit isn’t edible.
As its name suggests, Jamaican nightshade is native to the Caribbean islands. It can also be found in southern Florida and is considered an invasive species.
4. Horse Nettle
This poisonous kind of wild tomato plant has yellow fruits that resemble lighter varieties of cherry tomato. Horse nettle grows prolifically in the wild and can be found throughout the US.
While the horse nettle’s stems, leaves, and fruit resemble those of the tomato plant, they are easily distinguished by the large thorns – also called spikes – that run through the plant. While horse nettle is most commonly found in pastures and fields, cows and horses avoid eating it because of these large thorns.
5. Litchi Tomato
The Litchi tomato is an edible species of wild tomato that is most commonly found throughout southern Africa, Brazil, and the southwestern US. While they are known as litchi tomatoes in the US, the plant is known as Morelle de Balbis in France and Vila Vila in Central America.
The fruit is dark red with yellow flesh and resembles cherry tomatoes. However, their taste has been described as being akin to tart cherries rather than tomatoes.
Be careful when harvesting Litchi tomatoes, as the plant is covered with small, sharp thorns.
6. Currant Tomato
The currant tomato is indeed a type of tomato – just a smaller, wild variety native to South America. The name currant tomato comes from their small size, though they are also known as the pimp tomato as a shortened version of their scientific name, solanum pimpinellifolium.
Since they grow in southern Florida in the United States, they are sometimes called the Everglades tomato.
Despite the currant tomato plant’s classification as a wild variety instead of a domesticated one, they are widely cultivated in gardens and enjoyed by tomato lovers everywhere.
7. Carolina Wolfberry
This highly poisonous weed has prickly leaves and small, hard red or yellow fruits that resemble cherry tomatoes. Carolina wolfberry is in the same family as the tomato and the nightshade, but the most unique feature of this plant is its succulent leaves.
Unlike the other entries on this list, the Carolina wolfberry grows as an evergreen shrub and doesn’t lose its leaves and go dormant in the cold seasons.
Before this plant grows fruit, its white to purple blooms grow in clusters at the end of the stalks. It is a perennial shrub that is also called the Carolina desert-thorn, creeping wolfberry, and Christmas berry.
Learn more from a different post: Sunburnt Fiddle Leaf Fig
While the plants in this article resemble tomato plants, the weeds that look like tomato plants have distinguishing features that set them apart. These features include thorns, different leaf patterns or consistencies, and climates.
A little bit of time knowing the differences can save you a lot of time and effort later – and save your garden. Never eat a plant without knowing for certain what it is, since the ingestion of many wild plants – including some of those mentioned in this article – have lethal consequences.
Aside from the litchi tomato and the currant tomato, which are edible wild varieties of the cherry tomato, the others are not edible and contain toxic compounds.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell the difference between a weed and a tomato plant?
The plants listed in this article vary in their similarities to the tomato plant, with some resembling all parts of the plant with others similar only by their fruit.
No matter how closely a plant resembles a different plant, every species will have unique features that aid in identification. The litchi tomato – which is an actual edible variety of wild tomato – resembles the commonly cultivated cherry tomato in every way but one: its thorns.
The nightshade and horse nettle are poisonous weeds that resemble tomatoes, but both are different in noticeable ways – the nightshade fruit, when mature, are deep purple or even black, similar in color to an eggplant.
The horse nettle has large, noticeable thorns that leave no doubt of its identity, despite the similarities its leaves and fruit share with the cherry tomato.
Are black cherry tomatoes poisonous?
If you are out in nature and see a plant with black fruit the size of cherry tomatoes, it is most likely black nightshade – a poisonous tomato look-alike.
While some heirloom cherry tomatoes are black or dark in color, these are commercially cultivated and unlikely to be found in the wild.
Is there a plant that looks like tiny tomatoes?
The weeds with the small red berry-like fruit are the Carolina wolfberry and the red soda apple. Both are highly poisonous, despite their similarities to the domesticated cherry tomato.
There are differences in their leaves, making both relatively easy to differentiate from the tomato plant than perhaps the nightshade or horse nettle, which closely resemble tomatoes in more ways than just their fruit.
Hey, I’m Lisa and I’ve been an avid gardener for over 30 years. I love writing, talking and living in the garden! Feel free to connect with me on my socials below