Chinese lanterns bear a strong resemblance to Ground Cherries or Tomatillo aka husk tomatoes, and although they are cousins within the nightshade family, they are distinct cultivars. Chinese lanterns ripe fruit is edible, unripe berries as well as the leaves are toxic but not necessarily lethal. They are primarily prized for their beauty and the aesthetic appeal they lend to the landscape and garden. Although they are most commonly grown as annuals, they are in fact perennials that spread rapidly. Under the right conditions and left to their own devices they easily become invasive.
They flower in the spring which morphs into the colorful seed pod / husk which has the appearance of a chinese lantern. The plants are not Chinese in origin, they are actually believed to have evolved in Eurasia. Within the papery pod is a tomato like fruit. The ripe fruit is edible but tastes like .... well, lets just say it is not pleasing to the palette. The pods are commonly used post season in dried flower arrangements.
Growing Chinese Lanterns is a snap so long as you live in the correct hardiness zones [3 to 9]. They can be grown from transplants or seeds. Although growing them is a snap, germinating the seeds is at times a tad tricky and exasperating but certainly not impossible. They have a fairly low germination rate so only expect roughly one of every 3 seeds you sow to produce a plant.
Start them indoors in late winter or spring. Unlike most plants they need light to germinate, so you don't want to bury the seeds in the soil but simply lay them of top of moistened soil. Place the seed trays or pots in a well lit area with temperatures of around 70oF. Germination takes 3 to 4 weeks. Plant outdoors after a brief hardening off period, once outdoor temps are suitable, averaging in the 70s during the day no lower than mid 60s at night.
Full Sun but will tolerate light shade
Persistently Moist well drained soil, a thin layer of organic mulch is advisable to retain moisture. Moist and saturated are not the same thing, saturated and constantly wet soggy soil promotes fungus, decay and root rot.
Fertilize lightly in the spring and moderately in mid summer with a balance general purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
Chinese lanterns have a tendency to become invasive after a few seasons. Divide them in the spring if they become overcrowded, the same way you would divide flower bulbs. Dig up clumps and clusters and either discard the excess or relocate them. After the season ends it is a good idea to trim the plants back almost to the ground level, they will produce new top growth come spring.
Chinese lantern fruit resembles a cherry tomato and has more Vitamin C than citrus. Most varieties taste vile, in some instances it is sweet but generally its something you spit out when eaten raw. It does however have herbal uses as an anti inflammatory. It has been used to treat kidney stones and as an expectorant. Livestrong.com has an excellent article on eating Chinese Lantern berries see- How to Eat Chinese Lantern Berries, be aware the link provided is not connected in any way with luv2garden.com and we take no responsibility or have no control over content on the linked to site or its content.
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