The genus Physalis includes the edible ground cherry (aka Cape Gooseberry) and tomatillo, but the plant in question here is strictly ornamental. It is grown for its bright orange “Chinese Lantern” seed cases that follow rather inconspicuous flowers in late summer. Whole stems can be picked for drying, or the seed cases can be dried individually for use in flower arrangements, or even as Christmas tree decorations. Continue reading below for some expert tips on how to grow Physalis from seed.
Germination can be difficult. Once they’re growing the plants are very easy to care for.
Season & Zone
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Physalis performs best when sown indoors in early spring, around the last frost date. Seeds can also be direct sown in spring or summer. Physalis seeds should germinate in 15-30 days. Transplant after last frost.
Physalis seeds require light to germinate, so need to be sown on the surface of the soil. Ideal temperature for germination: 21-25°C (70-75°F).
Water regularly and cut stems back to ground level in the fall. Divide plants in early spring, or simply gather seed and treat as an annual from year to year.
Note: P. alkekengi is listed as an invasive weed in New England states. It can be grown in large containers – aim for 5 gallons minimum. To avoid possible spreading, simply use a fork and pull up whole plants in the fall, once the seed cases have been harvested.