Biological Sciences Department
Index Herbariourm

The genus Physalis in Kentucky

Physalis is a genus of 80-100 species of mostly neotropical herbs. Often called ground-cherries, this group also includes the tomatillo or husk tomato and the Chinese lantern plant. There are about 30 species found in the U.S.; at least seven occur in Kentucky. The most recognizable traits of these nightshade relatives are the spotted, solitary, bell-shaped yellow flowers and the inflated, papery husk surrounding the ripe berry.

LEFT: A selection of leaves, fruits, and flowers from a variety of U.S. Physalis species. This reflects the general "look" of the genus.

For a good current reference to Physalis which includes all species found in Kentucky, see:

Sullivan, J.R. 2004. The genus Physalis (Solanaceae) in the southeastern United States. Rhodora 106(928): 305-326.

Physalis species in Kentucky

"Big" images are 1500 pixels high (and approximately life-sized). "Small" images are 500 pixels high. For scale, the "K" in "KNK" is 3.1 cm high (or 1.25").

P. alkekengi: Fruit; Flower. Chinese lantern. Cultivated perennial which sometimes escapes. Can be invasive in the NE U.S.
P. angulata
[Big; Small] Ground-cherry. Native annual.
P. grisea: Strawberry ground-cherry. The name P. pruinosa has often been misapplied to the species in the eastern U.S. Uncommon annual, probably native, at least to the northeastern U.S. Historically cultivated for its berries, which were used in pies and preserves. Still sold in some seed catalogs.
P. heterophylla
Clammy ground-cherry. Native perennial.
P. longifolia:
Narrow-leaf ground-cherry. Native perennial.
P. philadelphica:
[Big; Small] Tomatillo. Called P. ixocarpa in many floras. Cultivated annual from Mexico. Occasionally found in old garden sites, but rarely persists for long.
P. pubescens:
[Big; Small] Downy ground-cherry. Native annual.
P. virginiana
[Big; Small] Virginia ground-cherry. Native perennial.

ID features for Physalis

Is it perennial or annual?
What shape is the fruiting calyx?
What types of hairs does it have and how are they oriented?
What do the spots in the flowers look like?

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