Physalis alkekengi (Chinese Lantern)
This unusual plant is a member of the potato family, Solanaceae (which also includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). “Physalis” is from the Greek “a bladder,” a reference to the inflated calyx (sepals of the flower). The flower pods, or lanterns, contain a berry where the seeds are located. Because it spreads by colony-forming rhizomes, it is considered invasive in many parts of the country. Here in Georgia (specifically Zone 7B) it is most commonly used as a fall annual for autumn planters because it combines beautifully with all the colors of fall. Use caution if setting Physalis out into the landscape in a planter, as its roots can easily escape and take hold in the yard.
To dry the lanterns for winter floral arrangements, simply cut the stems off at ground level when the lanterns reach their peak color and remove the leaves. Hang them right side up to dry in a dark, protected location with good air circulation.
Growing Physalis is similar to growing tomatoes, which may explain its sudden popularity in garden centers. Started from seed, the plants will grow in much the same way as tomatoes, with the fruit (lanterns) maturing mid to late summer, along with late-summer garden tomatoes.
This plant is best grown as an outdoor ornamental, because the immature fruits are considered poisonous to children and pets. For information about toxicity, refer to: Lampe, K. F., McCann, M. A. 1985. AMA Handbook of poisonous and injurious plants. American Medical Assoc. Chicago, Ill., USA. 432 pp.
To keep these plants in spectacular form through the Thanksgiving weekend, they are fed a diet of organic compost tea, from Authentic Haven Brand.