From what I’ve read in books and seen on YouTube they look a lot like cherry tomato plants with similar fruit. They have lots of leaves but not much fruit for the plant size. On the plus side they thrive on neglect, self-seed easily, grow in shade or sun and actually are less productive when fertilised. So it seems like a great plant to grow if you have space because the time and resource requirements are basically zero though the output doesn’t seem high unless you grow several.
They're also called "golden berries" and "inca berries" (mostly by companies marketing them as superfoods). We planted some in my daughters garden, and both she and my son loved them. It didn't catch blight like my tomato plants did, either. (We always get late blight here, and I got it on my tomatoes in mid August. The ground cherries lasted until we actually had a frost)
here they are a cash crop, mostly sold to bakeries, cake decorators, and fancy restaurants, for plate and cake garnishes (when they have their little "paper lantern" intact). I personally don't like the taste and don't eat them when I find them on my plate/cake, but whatever.
They do require no care, and tend to self seed. I`ve had them come up from previous years, and they're quite resistant to the pests that affect the tomatoes.
These have been pretty productive for me in a shady bed that gets only 3-4 hours of direct sun and isn't a good spot for many other veggies. I think I have been growing the "New Hanover" variety from Baker Creek. They are tasty but the fruits are small and can be a little tedious to process.
fruits of physalis are a special interest of mine, so it's disambiguation time!
there are are least two very different species of Physalis being discussed in this thread. true cape gooseberry, P. peruviana (aka goldenberry or incaberry), is a perennial (though not in much of north america), native to south america. the fruit are larger and sourer (i usually find the taste akin to 'tang' - citrussy and slightly more sour than sweet). this plant was taken from south america to many places - it seems to be the fact that it was grown in south africa that's given the name 'cape' gooseberry (while not being either a gooseberry or from the cape). 'New Hanover' and other varieties more frequently called 'ground cherries' are mostly P. pruinosa. they're all annual and make a smaller sweeter fruit. there also several north american native perennial species (in my area, most notably P. longifolia and P. heterophylla), the latter of which makes fairly large greenish fruit with a purple blush and has a very tropical-ish flavor, probably my favorite, flavorwise. not particularly productive, though. most species (though not P. longifolia) will drop the fruit when it's dead ripe. picking off the plant can frequently yield sourer fruit.
unfortunately, where i am i have a pest that's particularly damaging to Physalis fruits. it's a little slightly fuzzy black worm (insect larva - not positive whether it's a beetle or a moth) that climbs the plants and burrows into unripe fruit. they do it to tomatillos some, too (another Physalis fruit!). this has brought my experimental interspecies breeding work (trying to get a more productive perennial physalis) to a stop for a bit. hoping to pick it back up this next year, but it'll probably have to be in pots on a table.
Greg, I`m glad you mentioned tomatillos- Tim Kivi, I have huge pest problems with real tomatoes of all types, but tomatillos are completely ignored by the bugs. Depending on what you want to do with them, tomatillos might be a good substitute, and they also self seed and are pretty hardy to abuse. I planted them here in this garden maybe 5 or 6 years ago and this is the first year that I don`t seem to have any coming up to rip out.
(FWIW, I`m growing physalis peruana. My favorite local/wild food blog has a page on it entitled "Plant physalis! just not in the garden." which kind of sums up my experience with it.....)
I grew cape gooseberries as a perennial in the SF Bay Area. There it was easy, no pests (other than the occasional rat), self-seeded readily and delicious. Mine were very sweet with an acidic back note, reminded me of mango. The best way I found for harvesting was to put a sheet or tarp under the plants and gather the fallen ones every few days, because you want them to fall off the plant. Here in southern Oregon, the plants and fruits were covered in red shouldered bugs, which don't really harm the fruit, but are disgusting. And the ground squirrels would take them before they would fall.
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