German Pink Tomato and German Johnson Tomato: Same Character or Kissing Cousins?

“I bought the above from you and it is growing well. What is the orgin of this plant? How is is related to the German Pink that Seed Savers offers? Is it the same as “German Johnson”? Thanks. Bob”


German Johnson [Lycopersicon esculentum var esculentum] (also known as German Johnson Pink) is an heirloom that came with immigrants to Virginia and North Carolina.  It is one of the four ‘grandparents’ of the Mortgage Lifter tomato.  It is indeterminate with large fruits that are ‘rough’ (not nice and smooth like a Celebrity, but kind of ridged) and way ¾ to 1.5 pounds.  They have pink skin with yellow shoulders, mild taste, low acidity, and are a very meaty fruit with few seeds.  They have heavy yields.  They are good sliced or for canning.  They have fair disease resistance and a regular tomato leaf.  76-80 days.

German Pink [Lycopersicon esculentum var solanum] is a German tomato that came with immigrants and has been found more in the Dakotas and surrounding Midwest.  It is indeterminate with potato-like leaves.  The fruits are 10-16 ounces, deep pink with a sweet flavor, and meaty flesh with few seeds.

While these two are very similar, it is the leaf structure that distinguishes them.   The German Pink’s potato leaf is more closely related to the tomato’s close cousin, the potato (Solanum tuberosum).

I’m glad that you asked this question, because it brings up such an interesting area of history.  So many different ethnic-specific vegetables are tied into the history of where they were cultivated after being introduced from the New World.  A great example of this are German tomato varieties.  Before the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the area we now know as German was split up into numerous ‘duchies’.  From tracing the ‘genealogy’ of tomatoes, they can go back and see that a particular variety was domesticated and grown in one area.  While it may be slightly different in one duchy than another, it is really the same tomato.  A great example of this is the German Red Strawberry Tomato.  There are three duchies where this one was grown – Baden, Bavaria, Saxon – but each is a little different.  Same plant, but one area’s people saved seed from plants with larger fruits while another saved from plants with redder fruits.  A few hundred years go by and you have three varieties that are the same, but look quite different.  From what I have read recently, it is possible that German Pink shares an ancestor with Brandywine – a case where the common ancestor was crossed with a different tomato in each region and grown.



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9 thoughts on “German Pink Tomato and German Johnson Tomato: Same Character or Kissing Cousins?

  1. Pingback: Tomato Wisdom |

    • Hmmm, Cherokee Purple should not be cracking.
      –If you have saved the seed, is it possible that the seed crossed with something else?
      –If you purchased the seed, you were not sent Cherokee Purple. It might be a black type (notorious for cracking) or Purple Prince. Purple Prince is (unfortunately) sold by a number of seed companies as Cherokee Purple because it resembles C.P. but is a little be earlier on the maturity. It cracks very easily because it has a thin skin.

  2. I purchased German Johnson seeds, and one batch has the potato leaf, one batch has regular potato leaf, and one batch has a mixture of both types of leaves. Can you tell me what and why this is happening?

    • The true, blue original German Johnson tomato seed is… *da da daaaaah* … a regular leafed tomato. Now, before you pull out all your potato leafed ones, let me also say that there is a potato leafed strain.

      Originally, Seed Savers Exchange listed German Johnson as a regular leafed tomato. In more recent years, they have listed it as potato leafed. Both strains are commercially available — you can see regular leafed here and potato leaf here.

      In 1992, Totally Tomatoes began to offer the potato leafed version. At that time, they were the only ones. Where the seed comes from, no one is quite sure, but it has been speculated that it was something that didn’t come back true. Certain seed suppliers *cough*Seeds By Design*cough* have been known to grow both types… and often the customers of the companies that they sell to find that their packet of seeds is a mix of the two.

      What I recommend doing is going back to the catalog and/or packet of the company that you purchased it from (I’m assuming all your seed is from one company). See what they have in their description. Call the company up and ask for a refund of the mixed packet of seeds and the one packet that doesn’t match the description. Most companies will be more than happy to refund and/or send you replacement seed. Also, ask the company what it looks like in their trials. Any reputable seed company will have a sample of each and every lot that they sell in a year growing in their trial gardens — which, no matter where they are in the U.S., should be well on it’s way to having enough leaves to tell if it is a potato or regular leaf.

      Let me know what you find out. Now I’m curious to know which one it should have been!

      Thanks for commenting! =)

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  4. I haven’t seen a true Carolina German Johnson tomato since the 60’s. The seeds have been lost. The original was not a round tomato. It produced a malformed sort of trilobal pink fruit with a flavor that is unavailable today. Many times I would put out a platter of sliced tomatoes of different varieties and watch all the other varieties sit there until all of the German Johnson’s were gone.

    • Thank you for the comment, Bill. You have given me something interesting to look into. Back when I wrote the article, I had found information from older catalogs for my background research. I am not either my files currently, so cannot give you the source. However, I do not remember them having that description. I wonder if there is a Carolina strain that you had and another non-Carolina strain that is the one you now find in catalogs?

      It is possible that your strain does still exist in Seed Savers Exchange or similar seed saving programs, but is named something else. I do not want to give false hope, but sometimes the SSE quarterly magazine will have an article about something that was thought to be lost, then later was found lurking under a different name.

      Either way, will be an interesting thing to look into. Thanks for the information! 😁

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