Physalis peruviana - aka Cape Gooseberries, Ground Cherries or Inca BerriesI was lucky enough to inherit a very mature Physalis peruviana in our greenhouse when we bought our house. The plant is of the nightshade family Solanaceae. The fruits look like an orange cherry tomato but the taste is quite different, it's almost like a pineapple taste, it's one of those fruits you either love or hate. I love them, they are so beautiful. Each fruit has a husk which looks like a little paper lantern casing, they're really quite magical, you may have heard them called Chinese Lanterns.
The fruits of the plant I had in the first few years were prolific and the plant would grow vigorously almost all year, needing regular chopping back to stop it bursting out through broken panes in the greenhouse.
Once the Physalis peruviana lanterns turn from lime green to a papery cream colour they are ripe and can be picked, or snipped. The fruits don't ripen once picked but they will stay good for two weeks or so. You can make jams with them but I've always just eaten them raw. They're apparently a superfood, having twice the amount of vitamin c as a lemon and they've been used in herbal medicines for millennia.
Growing Conditions for PhysalisWhilst this variety can withstand temperatures below freezing, the 'Beast from the East' in February 2018 dropped a lot of snow onto the poor plant through an unnoticed broken pane and the plant clearly did not enjoy being sat in very cold and very wet conditions - it died. (I'm heartbroken!)
Physalis peruviana comes from the mountains of Peru - hence the name Inca Berry and the reason it can withstand those cold nights. It likes it dry throughout the cold weather and after fruiting. It has a real thirst through the growing season and needs to be kept watered, you'll know when it needs water as the large leaves wilt very quickly.
It doesn't need fertiliser, the soil in my greenhouse was very free draining and as it was next to a nectarine tree so it would not have much in the way of nutrients, although this plant had a very mature root system which would be sucking up moisture and more from outside. If it gets fertiliser it will grow and grow but you will get more leaves than fruit.
Cutting Back and Pruning PhysalisWith my original mature Physalis peruviana I would regularly hack it right back, taking away 75% or more of the plant. I took stems back to a bud and this would stimulate lots of new growth. You should cut them back after they have fruited, although I found that often the fruits would just keep coming, so really you just need to prune the plants to fit the space you have - they can grow huge!
Just like tomatoes, Physalis can be perennials in the right conditions and my old plant's success proves this variety will go on for years if kept dry through winter. The main stem of the plant would be better described as a trunk, it was at least 3 inches wide, here you can see what was left of it. I had hoped to see new growth sprouting up but that wet and cold weather combination was just too much for it. It's so sad to lose a mature plant.
Propagation of Physalis peruviana
My method was 'happy accident' aka self-seeding. With the amount of cutting back required I was always putting heaps of my mature plant onto the compost heap. Lucky for me almost every single plant pot that I had filled with home-grown compost this year contained at least 3 or 4 Physalis plants! Some are already getting a bit leggy.
You can also take cuttings - I haven't done this myself but the advice is to do this in autumn and then they should be ready to pot on by May for fruits in August.
The young plants can be treated like tomatoes, they have buds ready to turn into stems or roots, so you can plant them deep and let these buds help anchor the plant. Some of mine have been left alone and in three months there are a few flowers and some fruit starting but it's unlikely this will ripen.
Do you grow a Physalis - is it the same variety as mine or something different - let me know all about it in the comments and do ask if you have any questions.