This plant has a similar growth habit and cultural needs to the Chinese lantern, but inside the papery husks, the plant produces a tomato-like fruit that is edible and commonly used in salsas. As the yellow to purple fruits ripen, they split open the husks to reveal themselves. the fruits can be quite attractive in the landscape, even if you do not harvest them for eating.
Symptoms include severe stomach pain, diarrhea, bloat, a slowed heart rate, coma, and even death.The severity of the symptoms largely depends on a person’s size and how much of the plant was consumed. However, when mature, the berries have been used to make traditional medicines.
It is also relatively easy to collect the dried seeds from the plants and store them for planting in the spring.
Symptoms of Poisoning
When the plants mature, the majority of its care is keeping insect pests at bay. It’s also important to decide ahead of time whether you wish to grow these plants directly in the ground (without a barrier or container) and take your chances with their invasive nature. Without a barrier, you’ll likely have to spend time removing unwanted plants that pop up via the underground root system.
Chinese lantern can easily be propagated by cutting away a section of growth with roots attached and replanting. Spring is the best time for this method. The volunteer seedlings that sprout up when a Chinese lantern self-seeds can also be dug up and transferred to a new garden location.
This plant can tolerate cooler temperatures, but any frost will cause it to die back for the winter. It doesn’t have any humidity requirements. The seeds will germinate when temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are no cultivars of P. alkekengi; only the species plant is commonly grown in gardens. However, another closely related member of the Physalis genus sometimes grown ornamentally or as a perennial edible vegetable is the tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) also called Mexican husk tomato.
If the plants become leggy after flowering, you can cut them back to give them a fresh start. Cut the plants back nearly to the ground at the end of the season.
These papery pods enclose a fruit that is edible though not very tasty. While the leaves and unripened fruit are poisonous, many people like to make use of the pods in dried flower arrangements.
If you see a resemblance between Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) and tomatillos or husk tomatoes, it’s because these closely related plants are all members of the nightshade family. The spring flowers are pretty enough, but the real delight of a Chinese lantern plant is the large, red-orange, inflated seed pod from which the plant gets its common name.
How to Care for a Chinese Lantern
Caring for Chinese lanterns is easy. Keep the soil moist at all times. Water when there is less than an inch of rainfall in a week, and spread a 2- to 4-inch (5 to 10 cm.) layer of mulch on the soil to prevent water evaporation while keeping the roots cool as well.
Growing Chinese lantern plants is similar to growing other members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Chinese lantern is winter-hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. In addition to growing Chinese lantern plants from small transplants, many people have success with growing Chinese lantern seeds.
Once transplanted outdoors, Chinese lantern plant care and growth begins with choosing the right site. The plant needs average, moist but well-drained soil and prefers full sun though it will tolerate light shade.
Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer in spring and a balanced general-purpose fertilizer after flowering.