The bright orange involucres of the bladder cherry (Physalis alkekengi) brighten every autumn bed and are very popular with florists.
Profile of bladder cherry:
Scientific name: Physalis alkekengi
Plant family: nightshade family (Solanaceae)
Other names: Chinese lantern, Japanese-lantern, strawberry groundcherry, winter cherry
Sowing time: February
Planting time: spring
Flowering period: July to September
Location: sunny to partially shady
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calciferous, moderately nutritious, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flowerbeds, bouquets, cottage garden, flower garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-26 °C / -15 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: only a little
Plant characteristics and classification of bladder cherry
Plant order, origin and occurrence of bladder cherry
In autumn the gardens are now literally full of lanterns. The bladder cherry (Physalis alkekengi), an old garden perennial, with its heart-shaped calyx leaves in bright orange-red brings a good portion of color to the perennial bed. The plant belongs to the genus Physalis (Greek for “bladder”), a solanaceous plant (Solanaceae). Its name points to the common characteristic of the genus: the conspicuous sepals, which are also popular in floristry, and which wrap themselves around the ripe fruits in a bubble-like manner.
Altogether approximately 90 types, of which most come from north and South America, belong to this type. The bladder cherry was originally native to the Asian to Southern European region and is the only one that occurs in the wild in Central Europe. There are two different varieties: Physalis alkekengi originally comes from southeastern Europe and West Asia and grows 30 to 60 centimeters high. Physalis alkekengi var. franchetii (sometimes also called P. franchetii), which originates from East Asia and grows up to one meter high, is more commonly available in the trade.
Characteristics of bladder cherry
The bladder cherrys have green stems that are lignified at the base and can grow 50 to 100 centimeters (20 to 40 in) high, depending on the variety. The whole plant is poisonous.
The leaves are artfully constructed heart-shaped and can reach a length of up to 10 cm (4 in).
The main flowering time of the bladder cherry is between July and September. The cream-yellow to whitish star-shaped flowers indicate that they belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
After flowering, the sepals grow together and form the characteristic lanterns, which glow orange to brick red in autumn. When the sepals start weathering skeleton-like, the small berries inside become visible.
Bladder cherry – cultivation and care
Location / Soil
The bladder cherry is well used to warmth and sun. The location should be chosen according to these needs. The plant tolerates both full sun as well as partially shady areas, depending on how moist the soil is kept. For example, plants that grow in a constantly moist soil can tolerate full sun, while plants that grow in a moderately moist substrate prefer partially shady areas or a place with light shade in the garden. However, in a partially shady location, it must be taken into account that the bladder cherry usually produces fewer flowers. Overall, temperate climate summer temperatures are quite well tolerated by the plant; the plant can be described as very heat-loving and can also tolerate intense heat.
The best planting time is in spring. For the cultivation of the bladder cherry a wind protected area should be chosen in any case, which protects the plant optimally from strong weather conditions. In addition to considering the optimal location, the substrate should also be carefully chosen:
- Overall, a moderately moist soil is suitable.
- A moist soil is recommended during fruit formation.
- The substrate should be permeable, loamy and humic.
- The bladder cherry thrives in nutrient-poor and acidic soils; however, neutral, calcareous and lean substrates are also tolerated.
- Practice has shown that the plant thrives particularly well in calcareous soils.
The soil has an influence on the development of the plant. For example, the bladder cherry grows weed-like in particularly dry locations, while a substrate with many nutrients results in plants that are characterized by lean fruit formation but a lot of leaf mass.
The cultivation of the bladder cherry is best done in the middle of a flowerbed. There the colorful plant provides colorful diversity and is particularly decorative. The bladder cherry feels particularly good between bellflowers or asters. Because the bladder cherry is very prolific, it is especially popular in the overgrown areas of the garden, where it develops its lovely orange-red color in autumn and winter. The plant can also be used to decorate fences and walls. When cultivating the plant, however, it is important to take into account the spreading of the plant; the bladder cherry should therefore be planted at a distance from each other that corresponds to about half a growth width.
The bladder cherry is quite undemanding. Watering is especially important in the growing phase, so that strong leaves and flowers develop. But also during the summer months the bladder cherry needs to be watered well. Otherwise, the plant is moderately watered. Each gardener has to decide whether or not to fertilize the bladder cherry. Some considerations can help:
- If fertilizer is applied from time to time, leaves with a particularly strong color will develop in autumn.
- The best fertilizer to use is a rhododendron fertilizer.
- A very high supply of nutrients usually leads to a stronger formation of the leaves; however, the fruit formation then usually decreases.
- However, extensive mulching directly after cultivation is recommended; with the help of mulching, the water balance of the plant is optimally regulated.
It is not only because the plant is so vigorous that it is recommended to cut back the plant; pruning the bladder cherry is also suitable for care and decoration purposes.
- It is best to prune the plant in spring; if the stems have become unattractive, the time is right.
- The lantern flower is cut close to the ground. The cut may be done generously.
- For decorative purposes, the plant is usually cut in late summer.
- For this purpose, either the shoots or complete branches, including the fruit, can be cut off; this radical cut does not harm the plant.
Anyone who has ever cultivated bladder cherrys knows that propagation practically works by itself, as the plant reproduces itself with the help of runners. Even if there are no bladder cherrys in the garden yet, propagation takes place without complications. In this case, the plant can be propagated either by cuttings or by seeds. To harvest the seeds it is necessary to wait for the fruit to ripen. During the summer months, orange fleshy fruits grow inside the lampion-like leaves. In August these can be picked from the plant together with the lampions. At this time, the surrounding sepals are quite thin and can easily be broken open radially to expose the fruit. The fruit is removed from the inflorescence by rotating it slightly and can be broken open by pressing lightly; small seeds appear which can be used for propagation. Cultivation with the help of these plant seeds is best from February. A warm room is well suited for this. The young plants thrive particularly well in a permeable, calcareous substrate. The young plants must be watered vigorously and need a lot of sun. The seedlings should be planted outdoors after the last frost has passed. The distance between the plants should be about half a growth width. Already in the first year the bladder cherry bears fruit which produces seeds for further propagation.
Another method of propagating the bladder cherry is by cuttings:
- Bladder cherries spread quickly even in the width and can be divided easily.
- The rhizomes are simply cut with a knife.
- Autumn has proven to be the best time to divide the rhizomes, especially the October weeks are well suited.
- Now the root pieces can be planted and well watered.
Diseases and pests
The bladder cherry is basically one of the very robust plants that are not susceptible to pests or diseases. Changes to the plant are usually caused by care mistakes or disadvantageous site conditions. Thus, the bladder cherry does in principle also thrive in the shade; however, the leaves and fruits do not grow as abundantly as with specimens that thrive in partially shady or blazing sunlight. Excessive fertilization can also lead to changes in the plant. The use of fertilizers improves the growth of the leaves, but makes the fruits grow more poorly. Even with unfavorable watering, the bladder cherry can be affected and lead to diseases. Long periods of drought should therefore be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, prolonged frost in winter leads to freezing of the plant, which is why in this case sufficient frost protection must be provided. Special pests of the bladder cherry are not known.
The plant overwinters without any complications. The plant is hardy and can be left in the garden during the cold season. However, the plant cannot tolerate prolonged periods of frost.
Use in the garden
The bladder cherry, which forms dense stands, fits well in cottage gardens. It is particularly suitable for the edges of trees and shrubs or for unused garden corners. Accompanying plants should be sufficiently strong. Suitable here are for example daylilies (Hemerocallis), high bellflowers (for example Campanula persicifolia) or dotted loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata). Decorative perennials such as tall grasses (e.g. Miscanthus) or comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) are also good partners – around or on the compost heap for example.
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