Is Tomato Plant A Herb Or Shrub?

We notice various plants around us every day. Each plant bears its own distinct characteristics and nature. As a result, identifying and differentiating between thousands of plants is difficult, to say the least. Thus, you might be wondering, is a tomato plant a herb or a shrub? Knowing more about herbs and shrubs can help you figure it out.

Based on the growing habits and patterns of plants, scientists have put together three different categories of plants. These are herbs, shrubs, and trees. While most of us can instantly identify a tree, identifying a herb or a shrub can be quite challenging. Especially if you are not aware of their differences, you may find yourself in muddy waters.

The nature of tomato plants has been a common question among many people for a long time. In this article, we dive deeper into understanding if tomato plants are an herb or a shrub. 

Understanding The Differences Between Herbs And Shrubs

You may have seen many types of plants around you. They come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Similarly, different plants have different types of trees, stems, and patterns on them. These differences in nature and characteristics make them uniquely different from one another. Based on their growing habits, we categorize plants into herbs, shrubs, and trees.

To begin with herbs, let us first have a clear understanding of what they are. Herbs are those plants that are usually small in size.

They have delicate, soft, and green stems. These stems do not contain any woody tissues. The life cycle duration is around one to two seasons. One distinct feature of herbs is that they often contain nutritional benefits for consumption.

While herbs are tiny plants with green and fragile stalks, shrubs are different. For starters, these plants are a little larger.

Shrubs are woody. The height of shrubs is generally between 6 m and 10 m. Shrubs are bushy, hard, and woody in nature. Their stems are harder than herbs and more durable. Different shrubs have different life cycles.

In contrast to herbs and shrubs, trees are far different. They are woody, thick, and have hard stems. These stems are known as trunks Trees have a longer lifespan than either herbs or shrubs. So, identifying a tree is arguably the easiest in comparison to herbs and shrubs. Whereas, many people can get confused about differentiating an herb from a shrub.

For an easier understanding of people, learning more about the differences between herbs and shrubs can go a long way. Hence, below is a list of the most common differences between herbs and shrubs with their examples. This will allow readers to instantly identify a plant.

  Key Identifying FeaturesSeed-producing, annual, non-woody plants, with soft and green stems.woody plants contain several main stems arising near the ground, and many woody but flexible branches
Other NamesRootstock.Woody plants
StemGreen, fragile, and soft in nature.Woody, thick, but flexible, not so rigid stems.
BranchingStems do not have branchesHave branches at their base
Life CycleThe life cycle of herbs can be annual, biennial, or perennial.The life cycle of shrubs is mainly perennials.
TissuesDelicate and thin tissues.Strong and woody tissues.
  UsesUses of herbs mainly include flavors in food and use in medicinesUses of shrubs include gardening and some medicinal purpose
UprootingEasy to uproot from the soilHarder to uproot the plant from the soil
ExamplesGrass, Basil, Mint, Rice, etc.Orange, Rose Peach, Lavender, Lemon, etc.

These are some of the core differences that set apart herbs from shrubs. Thus, when you want to identify a plant, you can match the characteristics with this table. This will help you to instantly come up with the answer.

What Makes Tomato Plant An Herb?

So far, we have gone over the key differences between herbs and shrubs. However, a common question among people is whether the tomato plant is herb or a shrub.

Naturally, without knowing how to differentiate between herbs and shrubs, you will be confused about the answer. But when you know the differences, you can tell that the tomato is an herb.

The answer is, yes, the tomato plant is an herb. Now you might be wondering, what makes tomatoes an herb? Let us go through the basic characteristics and features of a tomato plant.

Tomato plants are vines. They grow around 80 cm (6 ft) approximately when they have support. The average length of tomato plants is 1–3 meters (3–10 ft) in height. These plants have green, soft, and weak stems. So, they often need support to carry themselves.

Similarly, in their native habitat, tomato plants are perennials. However, modern cultivation and different varieties can be cultivated as annuals.

Botanically, tomatoes are berries. This might come as a surprise since culinary terms often describe tomatoes as vegetables. They are popular for their distinct umami flavor in dishes. Many cuisines and cultures across the world use tomatoes as a flavor enhancer and spice for food. They are also known for their medicinal value as they contain the antioxidant lycopene.

Tomato plants also have delicate and thin tissues. These plants are pretty fragile by nature. So, uprooting them from the soil is also very easy.

If we compare these characteristics with the given table, we can easily identify that tomato plants are herbs. They do not have the woody, thick, and rigid characteristics of shrubs. Hence, we can say that tomato plants are herbs.

Are All Tomato Plant Varieties Herbs?

According to sources, currently, there are around 10,000 tomato varieties. This means the plants for these tomato varieties are also different from one another. Naturally, this raises the question of whether all tomato plants fall under the herb category.

The simple answer to that question is, yes, they are all herbs. Although the answer is short, the understanding behind it is much broader.

While there are heirloom tomato plants that stay in active cultivation without crossbreeding for more than 40 years, there are also hybrid plants. Hybrid tomato plants are those where scientists have carefully crossbred plants.

Hybrid cultivation allows farmers to grow plants in a manner that can get them a targeted harvest. At the same time, the hybrid fruit will also bear different colors, flavors, and characteristics. So, this genetic mixing creates different varieties of tomato plants that are not the same as the heirloom tomato plants.

However, the genetic mixing—or lack thereof—does not create a dispersion in the plant’s classification. In simpler words, while there may be thousands of tomato plant varieties, they are, at their core, all herbs. All these tomato plants bear the characteristics that make them fall under the herb category in the first place.

That is, all these thousands of tomato plants have green, soft, unbranched stems. Their tissues are delicate. Overall, plants are fragile in nature. They are easy to uproot from the soil. You can get the fruit, i.e., the tomatoes, bearing flavor and medicinal properties. So, it is safe to conclude that, yes, all tomato plant varieties are herbs.

Unless cross-breeding of tomato plants creates a tomato plant that is woody, grows tall without support, and has multiple woody and flexible branches, they will remain herbs. On the contrary, if there are hybrid tomato plants that fit this exact description, we can call them shrubs.


Identifying a plant as an herb or a shrub can be difficult without fully knowing about them. So, we should learn more about the different classifications and characteristics of plants. In this way, you will be able to answer the common question, is tomato plant a herb or shrub?