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Physalis alkekengi. Chinese Lanterns Physalis seeds grow into compact bushes of dense foliage. Its insignificant white flowers are followed by inedible, tomato-like fruits that form inside distinctive orange and red, papery coverings. Physalis develops an extensive root system and can be prevented from becoming weedy by growing it in large containers. The papery coverings that resemble paper lanterns dry well and look great in fall displays. Left in the elements, they slowly disintegrate, revealing a complex network of cells that resembles lattice work. Physalis is a close relative of the Cape Gooseberry but is not grown as a food crop. This plant grows 40-60cm (15-24″) tall.
How to Grow Physalis
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! Follow these How to Grow Physalis instructions and grow wonderful a fall cut flower display.
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 is best sown indoors in early spring, in March or April. 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° to 25°C (70° to 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.
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