Physalis alkekengi L., Sp. Pl. 1: 183 (1753).
T: "Habitat in Italia"; Lectotype : Herb. Linn. No. 247.5 (LINN) fide Schönbeck-Temesy in Rechinger (ed.), Fl. Iranica100 : 24 (1972).
Herb or small shrub, 10-50 cm high, sparsely pubescent with simple hairs, or glabrescent.
Leaves alternate, 1 or 2 per node (but not opposite); lamina ovate, cuneate at base, 4-12 cm long, 2-7 cm wide, sometimes larger, entire or irregularly toothed; petiole 1-3 cm long.
Pedicels 6–16 mm long. Calyx (4-)5–8 mm long; lobes triangular, 1–2 mm long. Corolla 5–angled, 10-15 mm long, white or cream with or without brownish blotches. Anthers 1–1.5 mm long. Style 5-9 mm long. Fruiting calyx 10-ribbed in section, 25-40 mm long, orange or red.
Berry globular, 10-20 mm diam., red to orange. Seeds reniform, 1.5–2 mm diam., pale yellow.
Distribution and ecology
Origin usually given as Asia or Europe; now widely cultivated and naturalized world-wide. Introduced in Australia, sparingly naturalised in South Australia.
Chinese lantern, Winter cherry, Bladder cherry
At least 2 varieties of Physalis alkekengi are recognised. These are based primarily on the presence or absence of hairs on the leaves and fruiting calyx and spots within the corolla lobes.
Specimens which are pubescent on the leaves and the fruiting calyx and have indistinct markings in the corolla are assigned to the typical variety, var. alkekengi, while glabrescent specimens with distinct spots in the corolla are referred to var. franchetii (Masters)Makino. See for example the Flora of China pages.
While having a long history of herbal use P. alkekengi is mostly poisonous and should be used with care. It is mainly used as an ornamental because of the bright orange "lanterns" it produces.
Derivation of epithet
Presumably the original name for this Old World plant cultivated as an ornamental for its papery inflated orange calyx.
Images and information on web
A series of photographs showing flowers and fruits of Physalis alkekengi can be seen on the Wikimedia Commons page
A mature fruit with skeletonised calyx can be seen at http://www.hlasek.com/physalis_alkekengi_4923.html and also on the Garden Plant Conservation site where there is also an image of the fruits at an earlier stage of development.
A line drawing in William Woodville's A supplement to Medical Botany, can be viewed on the Missouri Botanic Garden site under Rare Books from the MGB Library while the image attached here has been taken from Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885). Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz pl. 478 and is better reproduced at http://caliban.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/~stueber/thome/band4/tafel_028.html as part of part of Kurt Stübers online library of historic biological books
Further information about the possible toxic properties of Physalis species can be found with a search in the FDA Poisonous Plant Database while references to some of its past uses in herbal medicine can be found at the
Plants for a Future site.