Cape Gooseberry (Physalis Peruviana)
The Andean berry (Physalis peruviana) is often only known by the name Physalis – which is not correct, strictly speaking, because it is the generic name that also includes the Tomatillo, the Earth cherry and the bubble cherry. The fruit got its name Andean berry because of its origin – the Andean region in Peru and Chile. Another name we wil use here is Cape Gooseberry, which originates from the fact that seafarers during colonial times brought the fruit from South America by sea to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, where it was further cultivated. In addition, the slightly sour taste of the Andean berry is reminiscent of that of the gooseberry. The roots and leaves of the Physalis, which belongs to the Solanaceae family, contain toxic alkaloids. The fruits are tasty and can easily be cultivated in warm regions.
Appearance and growth
The Physalis Cape Gooseberry is a vigorous perennial that forms long rhizomes. Although it is actually perennial, it is only cultivated for one year in our latitudes due to its sensitivity to frost. The plant grows between one meter and sometimes even two meters high. Its leaves are heart-shaped and, like its stems, velvety soft and slightly hairy. The flowers of the Cape Gooseberry are yellow with black spots. Eight to nine weeks after flowering, they form the initially green lanterns, which turn orange to light brown at harvest time.
The fruits of the Cape Gooseberry wrapped in the lanterns are edible. They are as big as a cocktail tomato, taste sweet-sour and have a very high vitamin C content. For this reason they used to be eaten mainly by seafarers – to protect them from scurvy. Today the Physalis fruits are used in fruit salads or chutneys and decorate desserts. The fruits can also be eaten dried.
Location and substrate
Since Physalis is one of the nightshade plants in need of warmth, it best cultivates its fruits in a warm, sunny and sheltered location and in loose, nutrient-rich soil that warms slightly. If you live in a region where there is night frost early in the year, you will have little pleasure in your plant because it hardly produces any fruit. The Cape Gooseberry also thrives excellently in a container, but then has to be wintered in the house.
You can also grow the Physalis in a greenhouse for several years. The disadvantage: The plants then form a lot of leaf mass, but only few fruits. These also taste less sweet and aromatic than those grown outdoors.
Mixed cultivation and crop rotation
You should not plant Physalis in the same place every year. Also a planting place, at which other nightshade plants stood before, is not recommendable.
The Physalis plants or Cape Gooseberry can be preferred from the end of January in a warm and bright place. Sow the seeds in small pots with growing soil and place them as light and warm as possible. Temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius are ideal. The seedlings initially grow slowly and must always be kept moist. After about three weeks, the plants are pricked into pots. If they are re-potted into larger pots after some time, they will grow even faster. After the last frosts, the young plants can be planted outdoors. The seeds are germinable for about two years.
Planting and care
Plant the preferred young plants after the last frosts at the end of May. Since the Physalis grows quite bushy, a distance of 80 x 80 or 100 x 100 centimeters is recommended. Water the Cape Gooseberry regularly, especially when it is in bloom. However, waterlogging must be avoided. Since the shoots break off easily, supporting the bushy physalis has proved its worth. If you pinch the young shoots, you will promote bushy growth of the plant, without the need for regular sprouting as with tomatoes. A weak application of compost for planting is sufficient as fertilisation.
The Cape Gooseberry can be cultivated perennially if the plant is wintered. However, as it is very sensitive to cold, it is usually only cultivated for one year. If you keep the Physalis in a tub, you can cut the plant back by two thirds after harvesting and hibernate in a bright place with temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. Do not let the plant dry out in winter quarters. From March onwards it should gradually be accustomed to higher temperatures and the sun before returning to the open air.
After about three to four months, seven to ten weeks after flowering, the fruits of the Physalis are ready for harvesting. When the lantern is light brown and dried, you can harvest the yellow-orange berries. Ripe fruits can be stored dry in the protective lanterns for several weeks at 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. The berries taste sweet-sour, their taste reminds of pineapple and gooseberry. The vitamin-rich fruits are eaten raw or as a side dish in cakes, desserts or jams and are used to decorate cocktails and desserts.
The berries of the Physalis peruviana variety are large, dark yellow and taste very aromatic. The variety ‘Little Lanterns’ is suitable for planting in tubs. It provides a rich yield of small orange fruits. The variety ‘Peruvian Andean Berry’ produces cherry-sized fruits. Purple de Milpa’ is an early ripening variety which is also suitable for the local climate.
The Physalis can be propagated relatively easily via cuttings. Cut eight to ten centimeter long head cuttings with five to seven leaves by the beginning of November. They root in earth pots at 18 at 20 degrees Celsius after three weeks. After they have rooted, they must be placed slightly cooler. From May onwards, the young plants can then go out into the open.
Diseases and pests
Physalis are very insensitive to diseases and pests. The white fly often appears in the greenhouse. When the weather is too humid, ripe fruits often burst open and become moldy (grey mould). As a preventive measure, you should not plant the plants too densely, harvest ripe fruit quickly and sometimes shorten the side shoots.