One term that seems maybe suit­able is over­ripe, but this seems to be spe­cific to fruits which when over­ripe ex­hibit dif­fer­ent changes com­pared to those of veg­eta­bles: over­ripe fruit de­struc­ture and de­com­pose, but the veg­eta­bles that I’m look­ing for an ad­jec­tive for of­ten be­come tougher, woody per­haps, more dif­fi­cult to chew, etc.

So it’s not so much that they’re over­ripe be­cause these qual­i­ties may es­sen­tially pre­vent it from even prop­erly ripen­ing.

I also like over­grown, but that usu­ally de­scribes veg­e­ta­tion that has grown out of con­trol, so over­load­ing the mean­ing of this word seems prob­lem­atic due to the over­lap­ping con­text.

An ad­jec­tive I usu­ally do see used for this is old, but that doesn’t seem to re­ally cap­ture the con­cept specif­i­cally enough.

Maybe late har­vest or past due? These com­pounds do the job to de­scribe it but seem not straight­for­ward to use in a sen­tence like ad­jec­tives are nor­mally used.

  • What sort of context would you want to use it in? I'm just thinking there isn't a common word for it, so the word you use might vary depending on the context. – wjandrea Sep 8 '19 at 16:34

picked past their prime (also) peak

  • When harvested past their prime, beets have a strong taste and a tough, pithy texture"
    (Google Books)

  • Here are some ways that you can use your frozen, past-prime fruits and vegetables.

  • Tomatoes that are past their prime can be pureed and frozen for up to 6 months.
    (Frugal Living Mom.com)

  • The Pilgrims may have eaten turnips, but why should we? Let's face it; the turnip can be a tricky vegetable. If they're even a day or two past their prime, you'll wind up dining on a veggie that tastes more like a piece of wood than an appetizing holiday side.
    (How Stuff Works.com)

  • When florets [broccoli] on the outside edge of the head are large and full, this is another helpful indicator that you’re good to go. But don’t wait too long. When they begin to turn from green to yellow, this is a sign that they’re beginning to flower, and past their peak.
    (Gardener's Path.com)

A single-word alternative could be


overmature: past the age or condition of maturity
a : beyond the stage of desirable or optimal development or productivity

  • overmature wax beans

  • The squash is very tender and should be handled with care to prevent skin cuts and bruising. Avoid purchasing any with … a dull, shriveled skin, which is a sign of overmaturity.

  • 1
    Past their prime is a fine answer, one you can certainly use to describe produce grown a bit “long in the tooth” out in the field and so was harvested past its peak point of biological development for culinary desirability. However, in some context-free situations it might possibly be understood as meaning something slightly different: that once-fresh produce sat around somewhere too long after harvest, whether languishing unconsumed on the greengrocer’s shelves or on your own, or from having been stored too long in a darkened root cellar or the vegetable drawer of your fridge. – tchrist Sep 8 '19 at 14:51
  • See also past their peak in The Mother Earth News Guide to Vegetable Gardening now that Hærfestmōnað is upon us come. :) – tchrist Sep 8 '19 at 15:00
  • @tchrist thank you for the tip, when I have time, and with your blessing I'll add that variant too. By the way, I added "picked" because I was aware that "past its prime" could also refer to (withered or wilted) veggies and fruit that have been stored too long, adding "picked" or "harvested" overcomes that problem. – Mari-Lou A Sep 8 '19 at 15:36

The scientific term for this process is senescence.

This word encompasses the aging of plants in general. It describes not only the phase that fruits and vegetables enter after their ripening phases, but also the process by which leaves turn colors in the autumn, etc.

This is the wikipedia article on the process of senescence.

The adjective form of the word is senescent.

Showing signs of the farmer's neglect, the fields were filled with overgrown vines and vegetables in various states of senescence.

  • 2
    Leafy vegetables are said to have gone to seed when they produce a flower stalk which takes energy from the leaves that we want to eat and makes them tough. – Kate Bunting Sep 8 '19 at 8:03
  • Just to mention, "senescent" is a pretty scientific word which most people aren't familiar with, so I wouldn't use it except in an academic context. – wjandrea Sep 8 '19 at 16:30
  • @wjandrea senescent is definitely a $2 word, but it means aged in common parlance. Similar origin to the word senile. The scientific term derives from that sense of the word. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 16:48
  • @KateBunting That is certainly true. But, that's part of their senescence. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 17:27

My grandfather was a farmer; he said they were left "too long on the vine."

I searched--vegetables "too long on the vine"--to see if farmers (and the like) still said this. Google returned 415,000 results; several examples from the first page follow.

Re: peas (Burpee.com)

Pods left too long on the vine get tough and stringy.

Re: tomatoes (Omaha.com)

Large heirlooms can crack if left too long on the vine.

Re: cucumbers (DenverPost.com)

If left too long on the vine, they turn yellow, get bitter and seedy.

Re: string beans (wol.jw.org)

Staying too long on the vine also makes string beans “stringy.”

Re: melons (ChicagoBotanic.org)

For the home grower who left the melon too long on the vine or lost it to the critters, here's a positive spin: worms love melons.

Papa also said "past maturity" (but some may say overmature, of course, as previously suggested).

Also, overgrown is appropriate (per University of Illinois Extension) within its proper context.

Check the garden frequently for ripe produce during harvest time. Vegetables continue to grow and before long they are overgrown.

US, SE Region


Run to seed could also work in this context -

Run to seed

To become old and decrepit. Plants that are allowed to set seed after flowering either become bitter to the taste (lettuce) or will not bloom as well the following year (daffodils, tulips). Henry Fielding used the term figuratively in an essay of 1740: “For Virtue itself by growing too exuberant and . . . by running to seed changes its very nature.”



For a number of vegetables, the word you're looking for is bolted. Bolting is

the production of a flowering stem (or stems) on agricultural and horticultural crops before the crop is harvested, in a natural attempt to produce seeds and reproduce. These flowering stems are usually vigorous extensions of existing leaf-bearing stems, and in order to produce them, a plant diverts resources away from producing the edible parts such as leaves or roots, resulting in a poor quality harvest. Plants that have produced flowering stems in this way are said to have bolted.

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