Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Japanese Lanterns

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Japanese lantern: the plant that everyone's mother or grandmother grew.  Skeletonized lanterns bring sophistication as well as color to Fall.  There must be some patient insect that has a yen for the orange "paper" of the husk, if you can believe it, but leaves alone the husk's delicate supporting structure, let alone the puckery orange fruit it encloses.  Whoever you are, my multi-legged friend, thank you!

 

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Japanese lanterns are infamous as aggressive groundcovers, but I've beaten my colony to a draw by fighting one thug with another, planting this little bed with 'Chameleon' houttuynia, too.  Its colorful foliage brings some color to Japanese lantern's bland green Summer display.  You'll see. 

 

 

Here's how to grow this colorful as well as fool-proof perennial:


Latin Name

Physalis alkekengi var. franchetti

Common Name

Japanese Lantern

Family

Solanaceae, the Potato family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

There's a lot of different ratings here, from Zones 3, 4, 5, or 6 to Zone 9.

Habit

Groundcovering and quickly-spreading; forms colonies of uniform density.

Rate of Growth

Fast.  You've been warned.

Size in ten years

To two feet tall and as wide as you'll allow.

Texture

The pointed leaves on the vertical stems are coarse.  Japanese lantern makes an excellent warm-weather groundcover, but in leaf the colony looks more like a vegetable crop than an ornamental.

Grown for

the papery orange husk that encloses the cranberry-sized fruit, which is also orange.  The husk is several times as broad as the fruit, which only enhances the look of a small paper lantern with an orange light-bulb inside.  The fruit is edible, and is even higher in vitamin C than lemons, but that makes it too sour for most palates.  (See "Variants" below for a couple of Physalis that are delicious.)

 

its absolute dependability.  Japanese lantern will grow just about anywhere as long as the soil isn't too dry.  Although hardiness ratings vary—from Zone 3 to Zone 6—Zone 5 is probably conservative.  This much is certain: the plant was invincible where I grew up in Erie, PA. 

Flowering season

Summer; the small and pale-yellow flowers aren't ornamental.

Culture

Physalis alkekengi is so vigorous that "culture" is an overstatement.  As long as the soil isn't bone dry or sopping wet, just plant it and stand back.  Surprisingly shade-tolerant, but thrives in full sun, too.

How to handle it

Physalis alkekengi needs no special handling to thrive.  In the unlikely event that your climate is too cold or hot, or your soil is too wet or too dry, for it to persist as a perennial, the seeds themselves are likely to survive, enabling the plant to persist as a hardy annual.

 

You can control the spread of your colony several ways.  At any time, dig out rhizomes that are out-of-bounds.  Or, if possible, try to establish your colony in a bed that's surrounded by buildings or paving.  Japanese lantern would be an excellent groundcover for a difficult strip of ground between your driveway and your house, for example.  (And because the plant dies to the ground in the Winter, you've still got somewhere to pile the plowed snow.)  It's hard to resist harvesting the stems when the lanterns have just started to color; they're a welcome jolt of color in fresh Fall arrangements, and also dry beautifully.  If you cut the entire colony to the ground as you harvest, you control self-seeding, at least in your own garden:  The seeds can survive being composted, so you'll need to dispose of the cuttings in your regular trash.  Then Physalis can start ornamenting your local landfill.

 

The pure-orange lanterns are as showy in the garden as they are in a vase or as part of a wreath or garland.  They go with all the usual colors of Fall foliage—orange, yellow, red, burgundy—but would be a challenge alongside the pinks of many mums.  But because the plant's outwardly-bound ambitions can only be controlled, not defeated, your first priority will probably be to site Physalis where control is easiest.

Downsides

Japanese lanterns are so opportunitistic and easy-going that the challenge is controlling them, not establishing them.  See "How to Handle it" for strategies.

Variants

There are dozens of other Physalis species, although none that are as garden-worthy.  Physalis are tomato cousins, and some bear "cherries" that are tasty enough to make them popular crops, notably two natives of Central and South America: the tomatillo, Physalis philadelphica, and the ground-cherry, Physalis peruviana.  

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By seed and by division in Fall or Spring.

Native habitat

Physalis alkekengi is native to Europe.

 
 
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