Did Dinosaurs Eat Tomatillos?

Okay so I love tomatillos. These saucy little plants are a staple in my spring/summer garden. I grow most of my vegetables from seed; however, each spring I head over to an herb farm located on an island about 10 miles from my house and splurge on beautiful heirloom tomatillo varieties.

A member of the nightshade family (along with tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, tobacco, and eggplant), tomatillos bear small spherical fruit which are encased in an inedible paper-like husk. As the fruit matures it fills the husk, eventually tearing it open by harvest time. Just like their cousin the tomato, they love full, hot sun and so they are especially happy in my backyard garden.


Sweet pollinators helping a sister out | Honeybee on a tomatillo flower

For a long time, scientists believed the nightshade family came into existence around 40 million years ago. Only in the past year have paleobotanists (cool job award) discovered a fossilized tomatillo with the berry, husk, and stem preserved in Patagonia, Argentina which dated back to 52 million years ago! This little plant had been growing in a temperate rainforest beside a volcano long, long, long before humankind ever roamed the earth. The most fascinating part of this discovery is that it indicates that the nightshade family dates back way further than recently believed, as tomatillos evolved relatively late compared to that of other nightshades. This means the ancestors of tomatillos and tomatoes were most likely around during the age of the dinosaurs (65 million years ago). Amazing.


Tomatillo flowering (Physalis philadelphica)


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