Are Chinese lanterns and ground cherries the same thing?

Answered by Ricardo McCardle

Chinese lanterns and ground cherries are not the same thing, although they are related. Ground cherries belong to the Physalis genus, specifically Physalis virginiana, while Chinese lanterns refer to the distinctive papery covering that surrounds the fruit of certain species within the Physalis genus.

Physalis virginiana, commonly known as ground cherry, is a species of flowering plant native to North America. It is part of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. The fruit of Physalis virginiana is small and round, similar in appearance to a cherry tomato. However, what sets it apart is the papery husk that surrounds the fruit, giving it the name Chinese lantern. The husk is usually light green when immature and turns golden or straw-colored as the fruit ripens.

The papery covering of ground cherries serves several purposes. It protects the fruit from insects and other pests, as well as from harsh environmental conditions. It also helps to disperse the fruit, as the husk can easily detach and be carried away by wind or animals. The lantern-like appearance of the husk is also visually appealing and adds to the ornamental value of ground cherries.

Chinese lanterns, on the other hand, is a common name given to several species within the Physalis genus that have similar papery coverings. These species include Physalis alkekengi and Physalis peruviana, among others. While they share the lantern-like appearance with ground cherries, the fruit inside the husk is typically larger and more sweet-tasting, resembling a small tropical fruit. Chinese lanterns are often grown for their ornamental value, with their bright orange or red husks adding a pop of color to gardens and floral arrangements.

Ground cherries and Chinese lanterns are related but distinct. Physalis virginiana, also known as ground cherry, is a specific species within the Physalis genus that produces small, tomato-like fruits enclosed in papery husks. Chinese lanterns, on the other hand, refer to various Physalis species with similar lantern-like coverings, but with larger and sweeter-tasting fruits.