Viviparous Mutants And Other Things I Find Living In My Pantry

I like spaghetti squash.   My kids like spaghetti squash. We eat spaghetti squash A LOT.

So, when the spaghetti squash in the pantry was a little soft, I was surprised. I had only bought this squash 2 weeks ago, and since the darn things are meant to be stored for MONTHS, I was a little peeved that I had wasted my money at the store.   So, of course being the little Scottish American girl that I am, I cut it open, just to see if it was really, really not edible.

Turns out it was not rotten, it was growing. Heck, the germination rate in that thing looked to be higher than in my seed cups sitting on the counter next to it.

How does this happen?  While I have heard of germination of seeds inside fruit, I had certainly never seen it and even what I had heard, I had never heard it this severe.

You see, seeds inside fruit (and squash technically is a fruit) is inhibited by abscisic acid. It stops the germination and prevents the seeds from growing before they are out of the fruit.

Abscisic acid works like a treat and is the reason that plants can survive the winter. Without this enforced dormancy, they would simply sprout as soon as the fruit was mature and then their chances of making it through winter would be about the same as the Browns making it to the Super Bowl (and for those of you not from Cleveland, here is what that means — hell froze over, pigs flew, lightening struck the same spot 36 times and the Browns still would not make it to the Super Bowl).

In other words, abscisic acid acts like a mom, keeping the seed safe. But, a genetic mutation (because freak is apparently not politically correct) can occur where the seed becomes a delinquent hooligan bent on killing itself by ignoring his mother and it grows anyway, as soon as it reaches maturity.   It’s like a horticultural Rebel Without A Cause meets Romeo & Juliet (I am hoping that Peter Jackson will direct it).

These seeds are referred to as viviparous mutants. These early germinators can be found commonly in corn, rice, tomatoes and squash.   The mutation can be that the fruit itself does not produce enough abscisic acid or that the seeds ignore the abscisic acid.

Some people had commented that cold could trigger it (perhaps by destroying the abscisic acid), but I did not find that in any of the university papers I looked at. Though, admittedly, they were using some really big words because apparently the normal English language is just not fancy enough for science articles… But I digress… as usual.

Anyway, now that I know I have mutants growing in the pantry, I am beginning to wonder if my husband’s Frankenstein warnings about the leftovers in the fridge might cause a problem.

Added: hehe – I just realized that this was published on April Fools. While Mother Nature played an April Fools on me, I assure you, this is for real.

15 thoughts on “Viviparous Mutants And Other Things I Find Living In My Pantry
  1. Annikki on

    Going to pop some of those seeds into your garden? We got surprise spaghetti squash last year near our composting. It will be interesting to see if we can replicate its success on purpose. 🙂


  2. WOW, that is some wild and crazy germination. I saw the Viviparous Mutant effect last year, when corn attached to the cobs starting sprouting during some heavy flooding, I had no idea what was really happening. What a cool phenomenon. Thanks for sharing, I’m going read about ABA now. I’m curious also if you’ll be plating the “mutants”


  3. I did a web search looking for blogs directly relating to gardening, since my post for today (April 2) involves just that. Several blogs came up, but yours was the most informative. Although I am a paper artist, I am also a gardener and I love your blog. The information in this post alone is super, and the posts on container gardening were very informative (although moving all those plants must take forever).

    I showcase a new blog each day and I’ll be posting yours today (April 2). To stay a bit on topic (and not make this post seem like a rant), I threw a spent cantaloupe in my compost pile two years ago and the seeds sprouted. When I threw seeds into my garden on purpose last year, I didn’t have nearly such good luck.

    Thank you for such an inspiring blog. I really enjoy your posts and appreciate all the information you share on your blog.


  4. Mary on

    I just had that happen about 2 months ago with a tomato! I was wondering what that was all about. Thanks for the info. Mary


  5. I find seeds with radicals (the main root) frequently in my Pink Lady apples. I grew a sapling from one of those. Unfortunately, something happened to it. I haven’t tried to grow another because my research tells me our growing season isn’t long enough for that kind of apple; I’d be dooming myself to year after year of apples that almost but not quite ripened in time. I’ll still with my Jonagold that puts out a bumper crop every year.

    Oddly, I also had some corn kernels sprout AFTER the ears had been cooked! My kids hadn’t eaten all of their ears so I tossed them into my worm bin. Such is the germinating power of worm bins (best place to start an avocado seed), that some sprouted. That was bizarre.

    Hannah, I’m glad to see you blogging again. I enjoy your posts greatly.


  6. That has got to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! Also slightly disgusting but really cool. I’ve never seen that happen myself and altho I do know about the abscicic acid I had forgotten about it since biology 7 or so years ago. Thanks for sharing! You’ve become one of my favorite blogs to read because you combine gardening and humor so well when so many garden blogs are either very dry or very flowery. (pardon the pun) Awesome job!


  7. Just stumbled on your blog – love it! Will have to bookmark it for quick reference for this growing season.
    Andie Johnson
    Fairfield, OH


  8. Jack on

    I’ve seen this happen fairly regularly with store bought red peppers. In fact, we had a small pepper (about half an inch) growing inside the one time.


  9. That’s both a little creepy and very interesting. Like other posters, I’ve had it happen quite often with peppers which seem particularly prone to what I now know to call viviparous mutant growth, but I had no idea what the biology was behind it. Fascinating!


  10. Kristi on

    The same thing happened to one of our Red Warty Thing squashes…


  11. Chris Jordan on

    I had a pink lady apple experience too. I had never seen sprouting seeds in an apple but I cut one open a couple of weeks ago and it looked like lace had taken up residence. I carefully planted several of the sprouts and now I have 4 apple trees growing real leaves. I know they may never produce apples but if I can keep them growing, they will at least provide lovely shade. Makes me feel quite powerful and small all at once.


  12. Lydia on

    I love your blog! I found this post about the spaghetti squash very interesting!
    I never knew that the inside of the fruit can continue to grow after it has been picked.
    Wishing you a great evening!


  13. I happened upon your blog because I just cut open a ripe tomato and discovered it’s tiny seeds had sprouted! So, I googled it and found your similar experience.

    Thanks for the info – very interesting.

    My question is, is it safe to eat? I know sprouted seeds are full of very good things but the fact that these sprouts occurred in a less than conventional way makes me wonder. I always buy local, organic veggies so I’m pretty sure there isn’t any genetic modification going on – or is there????


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