HERB SPECIES: UNUSUAL SPECIES

CHINESE LANTERNS or CAPE GOOSEBERRY

A beautiful decorative herb with edible fruits  

Last spring, I introduced Chinese lantern plants (Physalis alkekengi) to my new herb garden.  I discovered small pots of this plants tubers at Bluebell gardens shop.  They are often difficult to find though I cannot understand why from their rapid growth of underground rhizomes.

In my previous garden in Lymm, Cheshire, I had part of a flower bed devoted to these plants. They made such a magnificent show firstly with their bright orange flowers, followed by their papery fruit wrappers encasing the small juicy orange fruit. Their display easily lasts through to Christmas.

These plants will be difficult to find already started, but the good news is that they do well from seed. Now that spring is just about here (NEARLY), this is your best opportunity to find seed packets from which to start in any local nursery or superstore.

When I first posted about this plant species back in 2017 I had many questions from interested readers.  I will address those questions here in a question and answer format:


Growing Physalis

  1. Is the Chinese Lantern plant really an herb
  2. Answer: Chinese lantern plant is herbaceous, which means that parts of the plants are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It is a member of the family Solanaceae, most commonly known as nightshade plants. Nightshade plants also include potatoes, tomatoes and petunias, and share the genus Physalis with cape gooseberries (a very close relative).
  3. Why Physalis?
  4. Answer: Physalis is a perennial plant grown easily from inexpensive seeds. It doesn’t need a lot of attention, grows quickly, attracts few pests and enjoys a variety of uses. It’s a plant of all trades.
  5. Is the Chinese Lantern plant difficult to grow?
  6. Answer: No. In fact, one of its flaws may be that it’s too easy to grow. The chinese lantern plant, like mint, has rhizomes that spread horizontally, meaning that even if you chop down the plant without dropping any seeds, it might pop up in another part of your garden.  That’s why Physalis would do best planted in either a contained garden, or in a pot. Or even a pot that is buried in the ground, perhaps disguised with some cedar mulch.
  7. When is the best time to plant the Chinese Lantern plant?
  8. Answer For most areas, the plant does best if sown directly into the ground in late spring. No need to start it indoors ahead of time; just make sure that you’re outside of frost-temperatures.
  9. Where and how should I plant the Chinese Lantern plant?
  10. Answer: Physalis can be planted in either full sun or partial shade. It is best to plant them on the sunniest side of your home but in an area that isn’t exposed to full sun for more than 8 hours a day.However, because Physalis can become invasive, it is best to plant it in a pot or in a garden that’s contained. I recommend buying a large, plain terra cotta pot to place with your other herbs and flowers to give the landscaping texture, height and a punch of color.

Where do Chinese Lanterns prefer to grow?

  1. Where can I purchase the seeds for the Chinese Lantern plant?
  2. Typically, you can buy seeds at a nursery or even in the flower section of a garden centre.
  3. Can I grow the chinese lantern plant in my apartment?
  4. Few plants do best indoors. In fact, even the peace lily, a plant known to do well inside, won’t bloom unless it gets adequate light, preferably in a sunny room. So, if you have a window or a balcony that faces south and gets a lot of sun, you maybe able to pull it off.
  5. Why are south-facing gardens best?
  6. The sun doesn’t technically rise in true east and set in true west. In the Northern Hemisphere growing season, the sun spends most of its time in the southern part of the sky, so your house will cast its shadow on the northern part of your property. This is because the sun as we see it, is below the zenith. Many outdoor ornamental plants do well in the sun on the east or west side of your house because it isn’t as hot. Window plants, or plants on a balcony, will likely receive less or diluted light, which is why south-facing exposure is best.