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For Folks like Me Who Didn't Know From Ground Cherries

  • Subject: [cg] For Folks like Me Who Didn't Know From Ground Cherries
  • From: Alliums garlicgrower@earthlink.net
  • Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2003 16:18:36 -0500

Hi, Folks!

"Ground Cherry, Cossack Pineapple (Physalis primosa)

I've grown this one, but it's not my favorite.

"Ground Cherry, New Hanover  (Physallis spp)

I have seeds for this one, which seems to be the preferred variety around here (named for New Hanover, PA) and I've grown it, but it's not my favorite, either.

The one MY grandfather grew and that I prefer is this one:

Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa) Recorded as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania and still quite common at almost every roadside stand in late summer. Fruits are ½ to ¾" in diameter and are encased in a papery husk that turns brown when the fruits are ripe. Stores 3-4 weeks in the husk. Extremely productive plants have a sprawling habit and grow 18" tall and 24" wide. Excellent citrus flavor, can be used for preserves, pies, over ice cream or in fresh fruit salads. Starts fruiting by the end of July and continues until frost and a little beyond, extremely productive. We have had excellent results growing ground cherries on landscape cloth which retards weed growth and makes collecting the fruits easy as they ripen and fall off the plants. . 70 days from transplant.

You can order it from the Seed Savers Exchange catalog on the web at


The Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook currently has 2 columns of ground cherries offered, but this is a pretty sparse year compared to others I've seen.

Jean wrote:

>I think that Ground Cherries, or Tomatillos, is what is meant here.

While both plants are Solanaceae, they are different species.  Ground Cherries are Physalis pruinosa, P pubescens, or P. subglabrata, originate in South American (Peru?), the husks remain closed around the fruit even when ripe and the fruit is small (cherry-sized) and usually gold when ripe. Tomatillos are Physalis ixocarpa, originate in Mexico, the husks split open when the fruit is ripe, and the fruit itself is much larger (golf-ball sized) and greener when ripe.  Needless to say, the taste between the two is much different -- ground cherries are sweeter while tomatillos are more sour.

The PA Dutch never let a plant go that produced well, no matter where it came from. One could get nearly anything through the Philadephia port, even as early as William Penn -- so if something produced with little effort (like ground cherries and saffron), it became a home staple even if you couldn't sell it on the open market.

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460

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