Herbs & Plants

Physalis heterophylla

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Botanical Name : Physalis heterophylla
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Physalis
Species: P. heterophylla
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Solanales

Synonyms:  Physalis ambigua – (Gray) Britton.

Common Names:Clammy Groundcherry

Habitat : Physalis heterophylla  is native to North America, occurring primarily in the eastern United States and Canada. It is known to occur in all contiguous states except for Nevada and California. It is found mainly in habitats such as dry or mesic prairies, gravel hills and rises, sandy or rocky soils, and waste places such as roadsides.

Physalis heterophylla is a perennial, and is one of the taller-growing North American members of the genus, reaching a height up to 50cm. The leaves are alternate, with petioles up to 1.5cm, ovate in shape, usually cordate at the base (this is especially true of mature leaves), 6-11 cm long at maturity. Each member of the Physalis genus has at least one characteristic that makes it easy to differentiate in the field. For P. heterophylla, the stems and leaves are glandularly pubescent, giving it the “clammy” feel from which its name is derived. The plant also has distinctive thick rhizomes that run horizontal to the stem. Some sources recognize four distinct subspecies based primarily on leaf variation:


*P. heterophylla var. heterophylla, with thin leaves that have dentate margins;

*P. heterophylla var. clavipes, with thick, conspicuously veined leaves and sparingly tooth-like protrusions on otherwise entire margins;

*P. heterophylla var. ambigua, with thick, conspicuously veined leaves and dentate margins;

*P. heterophylla var. nycangienea, with thin leaves that have sparingly tooth-like protrusions on otherwise entire margins.

The flowers are on simple inflorescences that emerge from leaf apexes. The petals are yellow on the exterior, and yellow on the interior with purple highlights emanating up each petal from the base. They are funnelform in shape, with five fused petals. There are five reticulated sepals, which enlarge after flowering to eventually protect the maturing frut. Stamens five, with yellow anthers and purple filaments. The flowers face downwards when open, and are about 2.5cm in diameter. The fruits are typical for the family (appearing like a tomatillo), and have a slightly bitter taste, though they are perfectly edible. The rest of the plant is poisonous.

Succeeds in any well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. A polymorphic species.

Seed – sow March/April in a greenhouse only just covering the seed. Germination usually takes place quickly and freely. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of fairly rich soil when they are large enough to handle and plant them out after the last expected frosts. Consider giving them some protection such as a cloche until they are growing away well. Diurnal temperature fluctuations assist germination. Division in spring. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer. Basal cuttings in early summer. Harvest the shoots with plenty of underground stem when they are about 8 – 10cm above the ground. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer.

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Fruit.
Fruit – raw or cooked. Quite nice raw though rather small, the fruit can also be made into pies, jams, sauces etc. Pectin or pectin-rich fruit should be added if the fruit is used in jams and preserves. The fruit can also be dried, ground into a meal and added to flour for making bread etc. The plant conveniently wraps up each fruit in its own ‘paper bag’ (botanically, the calyx) to protect it from pests and the elements. This calyx is toxic and should not be eaten.

Medicinal Uses:
Antitumor; Diuretic; Poultice.

The seed is considered to be beneficial in the treatment of difficult urination, fever, inflammation and various urinary disorders. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of headaches and as a wash for burns and scalds. A poultice of the leaves and roots is applied to wounds. An infusion of the leaves and roots is used as a wash on scalds, burns and VD sores. Compounds in the plant are being investigated for antitumor activity.

Known  Hazards : All parts of the plant, except the fruit, are poisonous

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

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