The Long Island Seed Project

Tomatillo and Ground Cherry

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Family: Solanaceae- Genus:  Physalis

September, 2007


Physalis ixocarpa and Physalis philadelphica

The Mexican Tomatillo is an interesting plant to grow because of it's useful fruit and, in many cases, attractive plant habit. Some may say the plant is weedy, but I like it's style. It branches and rambles, not a bush and not a vine. I've seen it thread through the open branches of a tree until it towers above my head, but I know it also, to spill over the earth as a low mound of green. I like the chinese lantern -like green calyxes, like little balloons, which are often borne in great abundance.

This year, besides the common green tomatillo that we use in salsa, we grew a wild "landrace" which is sometimes used by natives of the southwest U.S., turned out to be very drought tolerant and produced a profusion of tiny, dark green fruits which had a pronounced tomatillo flavor. Our favorite though, was a medium sized yellowish tomatillo which is mild and sweet. The flavor is really outstanding.

 We've grown different kinds of tomatillos since the 1980's and have always enjoy fresh salsas made from them.  I've made quite a few gringo converts who now use the wonderful tomatillo in their cooking,  Not only are many gardeners north of the boarder unaware of the beauty and use of tomatillos (husk tomatoes), most know only the large kind that show up in supermarkets on occassion. 

There is quite a bit of diversity in this species including unexpected flavors and sweetness in some kinds.  Fruit can be dark green to pale green, purple and yelllow.  When the mature fruit fills it's balloon-like calyx it will drop, then it's at it's peak.

Ground Cherry (Physalis sp.)

Our strain of Ground Cherry has reseeded here at Flanders Bay Farm for years from an original planting of ground cherries from a half dozen or so sources and it may have crossed with our wild ground cherry. I think that our's is naturalized from Europe (by way of South America originally) although we have some native North American species as well. One of our farmstand customers from Eastern Europe says this is the one she remembers grew wild there and that they used for preserves, jams and pies.  It's probably similar to a common cultivar:  Goldie which you should compare to.

The plants are large and sprawling, up to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Because it takes them awhile for the seeds to sprout in the summer, they tend to be fall bearers. The fruit, when ripe (calyx turns brown and the fruit becomes orange) falls to the ground and they can be scooped up in quantities enough to make a pie or two. I don't know how to explain the flavor, maybe pineapple like, most of the plants bear very sweet fruit which is nice to snack on but there is some variation in fruit quality.

Last Modified:  September, 2007