Have you ever grown 'Ground Cherries'?

Rod Snyder
Adams County Master Gardener

I remember as a kid growing up, my parents always had a garden, and parts of the gardening experience always fascinated me.

So as mom would go through the seed catalogs to see what she needed for the coming year, I too would be going through the seed catalogs looking for the seeds that were what I would now call on the unique side. For instance, the pumpkin seeds that are supposed to produce pumpkins as big as a house, or the seeds that when planted would produce a plant that grew tomatoes, peppers, watermelon and I think $5 bills, all on the same plant. Of course, they were all the biggest and best tasting the world had ever seen. It was kind of like the infomercials you see on TV today.

Well, this year as I was browsing through my seed catalogs, I found myself still on a quest for something unique. I came across something called "Ground Cherries". I'd never heard of them and I asked around and wasn't finding anyone else that was familiar with them either, so I knew I had found what I was looking for to fill my need of growing something unique. So I added "Aunt Mollies Ground Cherries" to my order.

The description said that they are a delicious pineapple/strawberry flavored "berry" that grows in a paper husk, and the husk would start out green and then change to a tan color and when it was ripe, the tan husk would drop to the ground (thus the name ground cherry). At that point they are ready to eat.

When the seeds arrived, the packet said they would take 14 days to germinate. I started them inside on March 18th on a heat mat, along with a few other seeds. Four days later on March 22nd they started to germinate. They were then nurtured under a light and on the heat mat until they made their permanent move outside on May 8th. During that time, I did a little research to try to find out a little more of what I was growing.

What I learned was that "Aunt Mollies Ground Cherries" (Physalis pruinosa) are in the Solanaceae family, of the genus Physalis, and some of you may know them by other names, such as, husk cherries, husk tomatoes, gooseberries, and goldenberries. Some folks call them tomatillos which also of the genus Physalis, but a different species (Physalis ixocarpa). I've found close to 80 different Physalis species and there may be more, each having different traits, some edible and some not.

They like full sun and warm temperatures. It appears that they will grow in most soil types and can do well in fairly poor soils.

You know that great feeling you get when you get your first harvest from any of your plants. Well, on June 20th, my wife discovered a tan paper husk on the ground under one of our plants. You could feel there was something on the inside of the husk. So we took the husk inside and with great excitement we carefully peeled the husk back to find a round golden ground cherry about the size of a large pea. We then took a sharp knife and very carefully cut it in half and each took half to try our first ever ground cherry. We savored that little half and could taste the pineapple and strawberry flavor.

We've given many away for people to try, and as with most things in life, some say they’re really good and some don't like them.

By the end of July the plants were around 14" high and around 5' across so they do take up some room in your garden. So far, we've picked around 450 of them from 4 plants and there's plenty more on the way. We eat them right out of the husk and have just started looking on the internet for ways to prepare them and to preserve them. Tonight we're going to try them on some vanilla ice cream.

So, this winter, when you’re watching an infomercial and they are saying "But wait, there's more" go get your seed catalogs and look for Aunt Mollies Ground Cherries and give them a try next year. They’re a beautiful plant and can make for quite a conversation piece.

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