Relative of Potatoes Expands Scientific Understanding

A fossil discovery in Patagonia has scientists rethinking the age – and impact – of the entire Nightshade family, which includes foods important to our diet like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and yes, papery-husk-covered Tomatillos. Jim

“The nightshades have an ominous reputation, but this large plant family is more than just its most poisonous members, like belladonna. It contains more than 2,400 different species, including some of the most widely consumed fruits and vegetables in the world, such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.

“By analyzing the fossil record through molecular data, scientists had estimated that the nightshade family was about 30 million years old, making it a relatively young plant family. But paleontologists in the Patagonia region in Argentina have discovered 52 million-year-old fossilized tomatillos, which are also nightshades. The discovery could push the age of the entire plant family, perhaps, back to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth…

“‘Whether the fossils truly are an extinct relative of the tomatillo is the big question,’ she said. ‘It is exciting to think this is a past relative of what we now eat in our salsas.'”