Thursday, 17 June 2010

When is a cape gooseberry not a cape gooseberry?

I have always loved cape gooseberries - those little orange fruits often used to decorate plates in restaurants that taste a bit like tomatoes, but much sweeter.

A couple of years ago I bought what I thought was a cape gooseberry plant. Luckily it died before we had a chance to eat the fruit because it turns out that I bought a chinese lantern plant and whilst the little lanterns look the same the berry of the chinese lantern is not edible. The plant did produce one lantern before dying and I took the seeds and grew them this year. Upon potting up the seedlings I decided to find out if they were supposed to be annuals or perennials, which is when I found out the difference between the plants. Since I have often interchanged the names cape gooseberry and chinese lantern in the past (as have others I know) I do think that the plant should have come with a warning saying that it was in fact inedible.

For those of you who might want to grow one or the other, the edible plant (cape gooseberry) is Physalis peruviana syn. Physalis edulis. This is actually an annual plant so requires growing from seed each year. The inedible, but still very pretty chinese lantern is Physalis alkakenge and this is supposed to be a perennial. I shall look after mine better this year and see if they survive the winter.

Just to confuse matters there is also the tomatillo Physalis ixocarpa which is also edible, but the fruits of this plant are yellow. So now you know!

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