Ground cherry plants (Physalis spp.) are part of the Nightshade family and in some areas are considered invasive plant species. Some ground cherry species produce edible fruits, while others have poisonous berries. Several ground cherry plant species are found growing in Florida, some of which are even grown in home gardens.
Cutleaf Ground Cherry
The cutleaf ground cherry (Physalis angulata) is an annual herb with hairless, 1 ½- to 4-inch long leaves that are oval to lance-shaped and 1 to 2 1/3 inches wide. This ground cherry blooms in 1/5- to 1 ½-inch long, yellow flowers borne atop angled stalks. The cutleaf ground cherry produces fruits enclosed within 10 angled or ribbed structures that are ¾ to 1 1/3 inches long and ½ to 1 inch wide. This ground cherry usually grows in fields, along roadsides, in pastures and in open woodlands or disturbed sites throughout Florida.
Husk Tomato or Bladder Cherry
The husk tomato (P. pruinosa), also called the ground cherry, strawberry tomato, Chinese lantern or bladder cherry, is a perennial fruit-producing plant found in many locations throughout Florida but rarely grown in home gardens in the state. It is an erect, 2-foot tall plant that blooms in small white flowers in spring. The husk tomato produces large, dense clusters of edible fruits in autumn, which are 1 to 2 inches long, lantern-shaped, smooth-skinned and reddish-orange. The fruits are encased in thin, paper-like husks and contain many tiny seeds.
Clammy Ground Cherry
The clammy ground cherry (P. heterophylla) is one of the most common species in Florida and throughout the southeastern United States and is found growing in fields and open woods. This ground cherry grows up to 3 feet tall with branching stems and alternately arranged, 4-inch long leaves that have toothed edges. The leaves are oval-shaped and covered in hairs. Blooming in hanging greenish-yellow, ¾-inch wide flowers in early summer, the clammy ground cherry also produces berries encased in papery shells. The berries are yellow when ripe.
Smooth and Virginia Ground Cherry Plants
The smooth ground cherry (P. subglabrata) is extremely similar to the clammy ground cherry, but its leaves are narrower, nearly hairless, and have fewer and less prominent teeth on the leaf edges. The Virginia ground cherry’s (P. virginiana) main distinguishing feature is that its leaves are narrower and less toothed than the clammy ground cherry, but they’re still hairy.