Common Ground Cherry

Physalis longifolia

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Photo of common ground cherry flower
The flowers of ground cherry typically hang downward like bells. They are yellow, and inside there are 5 purplish spots or smudges toward the base that are sometimes merged into a ring. It blooms May–September.
Bruce Ackley, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Edible
Other Common Name
Long-Leaved Groundcherry; Wild Tomatillo
Family

Solanaceae (potatoes, nightshades)

Description

Common ground cherry is an erect, branched perennial. Flowers arise singly from leaf axils, bell-shaped, about 1 inch long, sulphur to lemon yellow, the inner surface with 5 purplish spots or smudges toward the base that are sometimes merged into a ring. Blooms May–September. Leaves alternate, long petioled, either entire or with lobelike teeth, the margins of the 2 sides unsymmetrical, ovate. Fruit the “ground cherry,” a berry in a crisp, papery husk, which is 5-sided, pointed, and lanternlike.

Similar species: There are 13 Physalis species recorded for Missouri. All share the characteristic balloonlike, papery husk around the berry, which is why these plants are called “husk tomatoes.”

Size

Height: about 2 feet.

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Photo of common ground cherry plants with fruits
Common Ground Cherry (Plants With Fruits)
You’ve seen tomatillos in the grocery store, and you’ve probably enjoyed a delicious salsa verde at a Mexican restaurant. Common ground cherry is closely related to the tomatillo, and its fruits are edible, too.

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Photo of common ground cherry fruit with husk partially removed
Common Ground Cherry (Fruit With Husk Partly Removed)
Ground cherry is closely related to tomatillo; they are in the same genus, and both have edible berries covered by a papery husk. The tart berries start out green, turn yellow, and fall to the ground. Discard the husks and make jam, jelly, or pie, or eat the berries fresh.

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Photo of common ground cherry spent flower with immature fruit
Common Ground Cherry (Spent Flower With Immature Fruit)
There are 13 Physalis species recorded for Missouri. All share the characteristic balloonlike, papery husk around the berry, which is why these plants are called “husk tomatoes.”
Habitat and conservation

Grows in bottomland forests, rich upland forests, banks of streams, rivers, and spring branches, bottomland prairies, swales in upland prairies, saline marshes, fens, margins of ponds and lakes, swamps, sloughs, savannas, bases and ledges of bluffs, and rarely glades; also ditches, pastures, fields, railroads, roadsides, and other disturbed areas.

image of Common Ground Cherry Long-Leaved Groundcherry Wild Tomatillo distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered nearly statewide.

Status

The leaves and stems of plants in the nightshade family, as a general rule, contain toxic alkaloids and are poisonous to people and livestock. However, in several species, the fruits or tubers – where the plant stores large amounts of sugars and starches – can be quite edible. Examples include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatillos. Ground cherry is closely related to tomatillo; they are in the same genus, and both have edible berries covered by a papery husk.

Human connections

The tart, tomatillo-like berries start out green, turn yellow, and fall to the ground. Discard the husks and make jam, jelly, or pie, or eat the berries fresh. Maybe it can be used to make a salsa verde. Of course, Native Americans ate the flavorful fruit, too, and developed several recipes for it.

Ecosystem connections

Bees and other insects visit the flowers, and a number of other insects feed on the foliage. Mammals avoid the foliage because it is toxic to them. The fruits, however, are eaten by birds and some mammals, which disperse the undigested seeds.