What is a Jerusalem Cherry?

Stacy C.

A Jerusalem Cherry is a type of perennial plant with poisonous fruit. Also known as Solanum pseudocapsicum, it is a nightshade species originally native to Peru. It's often kept as a common houseplant, and is so wide-spread in Australia it's considered an invasive weed.

The Jerusalem cherry belongs to the nightshade family of plants, which also includes eggplants and tomatoes.
The Jerusalem cherry belongs to the nightshade family of plants, which also includes eggplants and tomatoes.

It has red, poisonous fruit that both looks and tastes similar to cherry tomatoes and is often confused with them. However, eating the fruit from this plant is rarely life-threatening to humans and will likely just cause vomiting and gastroenteritis. It can also cause diarrhea, drowsiness, and headache. In extremely rare cases, eating the fruit can result in delirium, hallucinations and even coma. Ingesting enough of it could be fatal to dogs, cats and birds that are kept as pets, such as parrots.

In extreme cases, eating a Jerusalem cherry can cause hallucinations and coma.
In extreme cases, eating a Jerusalem cherry can cause hallucinations and coma.

The Jerusalem Cherry is also referred to as the Madeira Winter Cherry, the winter cherry, and False Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum capsicastrum). Jerusalem Cherry and False Jerusalem Cherry were once recognized as two separate plants, with the False version being slightly smaller in size and having foliage with a grey tint to it. The two plants are generally now referred to as the same thing in most gardening and plant books.

Jerusalem Cherry can be harmful to dogs and cats.
Jerusalem Cherry can be harmful to dogs and cats.

The plants can live up to 10 years but don't produce their poisonous fruit until year two or three. After it blooms once, it typically produces every year thereafter. Small white flowers are the first sign that the plant is beginning to bloom in the midsummer. The flowers are followed by the cherry tomato-like fruits. These start off green, then turn yellow, orange and red. The Jerusalem Cherry likes full sunlight but can tolerate partal or light shade if necessary. It needs a warmer climate and prefers to be kept outside year-round. Jerusalem Cherry plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, root rot, leaf rot, southern blight, leaf spot and crown rot, among other diseases.

The name is a misnomer, as the plant does not bear real cherries and is not native to Jerusalem or the area. One theory as to the origins of its name is that a gardener brought back the seeds or plants from someone's private garden in Jerusalem and simply attached the country's name to the plant without researching its true native land. Several other plants with the Jerusalem name also have little to do with the country itself. One authority hypothesises that Jerusalem is a substitute for a foreign or exotic country when the plant's namer doesn't have a background to attribute to the plant.

Drowsiness is a common side effect from eating a Jerusalem cherry.
Drowsiness is a common side effect from eating a Jerusalem cherry.

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Discussion Comments

Krunchyman

I'm quite surprised that the name itself is a misnomer, as I sure didn't get that vibe when I started reading the article.

However, on the other hand, it's an interesting name in the sense that it doesn't have to be "accurate", and it only makes the plant more unique.

After all, if it had a generic name, most people wouldn't give a second thought about it. However, with a name like this, it really makes you wonder about the origin, which is thankfully, expressed in detail within the article.

Viranty

Though I've never had a Jerusalem Cherry before, I think I might buy one from the store one day, as it sounds like a very interesting plant. Sure, the fruit it bears might be poisonous, but one some people need to realize is that not all fruit is going to be safe to eat. Some of it is for display, and it's the plants and trees that really matter.

Euroxati

This is a very interesting article. Also, adding onto that, is there a way to eat the poisonous fruit without getting sick at all? When it comes to some poisonous fruits, I have heard stories in which you can have the fruit "treated" or once you allow it to ripen, it's safe to eat.

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