Physalis alkekengi

Nightshade Family [Solanaceae]

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Berries: berryZorange (~8mmφ but not filling calyx, edible)
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18th July 2017, a garden Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
Large broad-lanceolate leaves.

18th July 2017, a garden Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
With just one flower atop. The other flowers are turning to seed (being the inflated, pendant, caged lanterns which are at first green).

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Poynton, Cheshire. Photo: © Anne Nesbit
The very hairy sepal cup of the flower has 5 long re-curved sepal teeth and at first a flower which is folded (with 5 pleats) like a long skirt. The petioles (flower stalks are also hairy, as are the leaves and main stem, but less so. The leaves are fairy large and winged along the stalk.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Poynton, Cheshire. Photo: © Anne Nesbit
Un-folded the white flower is nearly planar with the 5 petals barely discernible - it just resembles a large disc. A single long style fawn-coloured with discoidal stigma is longer than the 5 concolorous anthers supported on thin white filaments. A striking pattern of green areas is arranged symmetrically in 5 areas corresponding with the 5 'petals'. The pattern is near the centre and is also faintly visible on the other side of the petals - see the previous photo. The petals have shorter white hairs on their edges.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Poynton, Cheshire. Photo: © Anne Nesbit
Green pattern, anthers and style.

1st Oct 2003, a garden, Kelsey, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Growing up to 60cm high with a backdrop of the deep-red and purple flowering, rhizome-spreading Hedge Fuchsia. The orange cages are not the flowers but extended calyx-tubes.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Chesterfield Canal, Ranby. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are white with 5 petals (no photos as yet) and are 10-15mm across. After flowering in July - September the calyx-tube expands into a caged paper-like structure 2.5-5cm long which contains the red-ripening fruit (which is up to 12-17mm across but does not fill the calyx). The only Physalis species with tangerine-coloured calyx-tube.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Chesterfield Canal, Ranby. Photo: © RWD
Leaves pale-green and typically of nightshade-family shape with wavy appearance.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Chesterfield Canal, Ranby. Photo: © RWD
Leaves heart-shaped (cuneate) at the base to tapering (subcordate), 6-12cm long and 4-9cm wide.

14th Sept 2016, a garden, Chesterfield Canal, Ranby. Photo: © RWD
The inflated calyx tube has 10 ribs holding it in a shape like a paper lantern. The calyx also has a mesh between the ribs and connecting with them to help keep the lanterns shape. The tangerine to red coloured covering eventually decays in spring leaving just the mesh-cage itself (and the smaller fruit held within).

18th July 2017, a garden Photo: © Bastiaan Brak
The leaves near ground-zero.

11th Aug 2017, a garden. Photo: © Alison Lindsay
The edible orange-coloured fruit, still within its open lantern. They are often found as an edible ornament served up with sweets in posh eateries. It tastes alright and isn't poisonous like the rest of the plant probably is.


2nd Jan 2016, a garden, Castlefield Canal Basins, Manchester. Photo: © RWD
At first glance this plant also looks like Japanese Lantern, except that the sepal tube is pink (rather than tangerine) and there is sometimes a curtain of four yellow petals protruding from the opening at the bottom. This Abutilon plant is often called 'Chinese Lantern', but the Japanese Lantern also on this page is likewise called 'Chinese Lantern', so caution in interpretation is required when using common names.

2nd Jan 2016, a garden, Castlefield Canal Basins, Manchester. Photo: © RWD
Longer than either the pink lantern or the yellow skirt is a long thin purple-coloured style with many short stigma peeling off it. This is typical of the Malvaceae (Mallow) family, and indeed, this plant belongs to the malvaceae and not to solanaceae. Unlike Japanese Lantern there are only 4(?) ribs on the pink calyx. This is possibly Arbutilon megapotamicum aka Trailing Arbutilon, they are also called 'Chinese Lanterns'.

2nd Jan 2016, a garden, Castlefield Canal Basins, Manchester. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are similar in shape to those of Japanese Lantern, but larger, a much darker green, and are cuspidate towards the tip (but cordate at the stalk end).

Many similarities to : Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) which belongs in the same genera but that has pale-greenish lantern, the flowers have five pointed yellow petals (rather than white), and the fruit is yellow (rather than orange). Two other similar Physalis plants are Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) with green to purple fruit which (unlike Japanese Lantern) completely fills the calyx tube and the similar but usually larger-flowered Large-flowered Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphia) - however, sizes overlap somewhat. All 4 Physalis species are non-native plants which are planted in gardens from where they may escape.

Some similarities to : Orange-Peel Clematis (Clematis tangutica) but this has only four petals (rather than the 5 of Japanese Lantern) and are yellow (rather than white) and which initially forms a similarly drooping and apparently closed pointed structure but, unlike the orange caged-sepal of Japanese Lantern, these are not fused together and will open slightly.

Superficial resemblance to : Apple-of-Peru (Nicandra physalodes) but that has a pale-blue to white flower.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The bright orange pendant calyx tube which looks like a lantern.

The flowers are white with 5 petals (not shown). After flowering the petals drop off and the calyx inflates to form a bright orange cage structure with 10 axial ribs which will nurture the ripening spherical fruit, (not shown), which is also bright orange.

The concolorous spherical fruit is soft, tomato-like containing many small seeds and edible, possessing more vitamin C than do lemons. They are sometimes used as a garnish in posh restaurants (indeed, your Author remembers having one - but at the time had no idea what it was), as are Cape Gooseberry and Tomatillo fruits. However, no other part of these poisonous plants are edible! The dried fruit of Japanese Lantern is used as a diuretic, antiseptic, liver corrective and as a sedative.

The plant is reported to have medicinal properties such as anti-gout, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-mitotic, analgesic, laxative, diuretic, leishmanicidal and is also anti-malarial.

The plant contains various substances such as alkaloids, glucocorticoids, Lycopene, ethanolic compounds and Vitamin C. Of particular note are a tropane alkaloid and a few Physalins (named after the genus of plants in which they are extensively found) being steroidal compounds with an unusual structure. A phenylpropanoid glycoside called Cuneataside E is also to be found within the plant. Also the ethyl ester of Caffeic Acid - Ethyl Caffeate.


The roots contain a norTropane alkaloid similar to many Tropane alkaloids contained within other species of Solanaceae, but this one, 3α-TigloyloxyTropane, has an unusual Tigloyloxy side-group attached and is an ester.


The Physalins are similar to Steroidal compounds, but one of the bonds is broken near the centre of the molecule and instead the topmost group has an additional bond completing a hexagon. The physalins are not alkaloids for they lack any nitrogen atoms and consist solely of C, H and O atoms (as do steroidal compounds). The three Physalins shown are also ketones. All four Physalins shown are to be found in Japanese Lantern. More than another eight Physalins exist which are synthesized by other species of Physalis.

Physalin A is the simplest of the physalins, but compared to the physalin skeleton shown above there are three additional rings, one completed by an epoxide-bridge (-O-) across the middle-centre to make a new 5-membered ring, a second by a 5-membered ring with a ketone oxygen atom (centre top) and the third by a lactone (top-most right-most). Physalin A is a quadruple ketone, possessing four =O bonds, as are all the Physalins depicted here.

Physalin B has one more ring than Physalin A, a 7-membered ring which also includes a peroxide linkage. Physallin B and Physalin D are pronouncedly polycyclic with a 6-membered ring with a heterocyclic oxygen atom pinning and pulling two other ring systems together and probably making more noticeably 3-dimensional. This probably also increases their toxicity since 3-dimensional substances can generally react with biological molecules more readily.

Physalin D is similar to Physalin B but with two extra -OH side-groups (bottom left) and the subsequent elimination of a double bond in the second hexagon. Physalin D is also found in Physalis angulata, together with other Physalins which are not found in Japanese Lantern. It has anti-malarial and antimycobacterial properties, both aerobic and non-motile. These pathogens are responsible for diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy.

Physalin L differs from all the other Physalins shown here in two ways. The first is that the 5-sided ring (centre top) now has a heterocyclic oxygen atom making it also a lactone (besides the lactone in the 6-membered ring at top right. The second way it differs is that the first double bond on the left-most 6-membered ring has moved anti-clockwise by one position. Japanese Lantern also contains 25,27-dehydroPhysalin L (not shown).

  Physalis alkekengi  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Solanaceae  

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Physalis alkekengi

Nightshade Family [Solanaceae]