What is Physalis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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Physalis is a genus of flowering plants native to the subtropical and temperate regions of the Americas. This genus has both ornamental and edible uses, depending on the species, and it is widely cultivated all over the world. Plants in the Physalis genus are also known as ground cherries, cape gooseberries, Chinese lantern plants, and, in the case of Physalis philadelphica, tomatillos. Many garden shops have Physalis plants and starts, along with seeds.

These plants enjoy warm weather, minimal breezes, and lots of water. They are members of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes, and they superficially resemble these plants in many ways. Physalis typically develops slightly hairy leaves, thick stems, and delicate yellow to orange flowers. When fruit develops, it grows inside a husk, and the color may vary: red, orange, and yellow are all common shades for Physalis fruits, along with more exotic shades like purple.

The fruits of some species are edible, with an acidic kick like that of tomatoes. Some have notes of tropical fruit like pineapples, while others have a more earthy flavor. Physalis fruits can be eaten out of hand raw, sliced and thrown into salads, used in salsas and sauces, cooked in stir fries, dried, and cooked in preserves and jellies. Some varieties are more savory in nature, while others are very sweet. Tomatillos in particular are very popular in Latin America, and they are rich in vitamin C, making them a great addition to the diet.


The recommended zone of growth for Physalis varies, depending on the species. Some need extremely warm weather, around USDA zones 10 and 11, while others can cope with much cooler climates. Decorative Physalis will grow for many years, especially if the root balls are regularly divided and distributed to provide lots of room for growth. Physalis, edible or not, can make a very colorful addition to the garden in large beds or as a border planting.

People who want to grow Physalis should be aware that this genus has very high water needs, especially when it is developing fruit. It can be a good idea to mulch Physalis plants to help them retain water, but they will still require extra attention with the hose. In dry, drought-prone climates, Physalis may not be a great garden choice, because it will consume a lot of water resources, and the plant may struggle to survive even with a lot of water if the air is dry.


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Post 2

@Malachis - If you want to grow tomatillos, you're looking for the ixocarpa species of the physalis genus. Just be aware that this plant often needs another plant to enhance it's growth and ensure that it the fruit will actually develop, so it should not be planted alone.

If you'd like to stick with the physalis genus to plant with it, you might want to consider the physalis peruviana. This species yields the cape gooseberry, also known as a Peruvian groundcherry, a small sweet fruit that works great in salads or guacamole. The physalis heterophylla is the clammy ground cherry, which is native to North America. If you just want something nice to look at in your garden, the physalis franchetti species will produce the Chinese lantern plant.

I would recommend avoiding the physalis subglabrata. This plant grows the smooth groundcherry, also known as the husk-tomato, but this is typically considered to be a weed.

Post 1

I use a lot of tomatillos in my salsa and sauces for cooking. If I wanted to grow my own tomatillos, what Physalis genus should I look for? I don't want to end up with gooseberries or Chinese lantern plants.

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