Common Ground Cherry, Smooth Ground Cherry, Long-Leafed Ground Cherry, Wild Tomatillo
Synonyms of Physalis longifolia (1) (Updated on 1-16-23 from Plants of the World Online): Physalis lanceolata var. longifolia (Nutt.) Trel.
Synonyms of Physalis longifolia var. longifolia (autonym) (6): Physalis polyphylla Greene, Physalis pumila var. sonorae Torr., Physalis rigida Pollard & C.R.Ball, Physalis virginiana var. longiseta Waterf., Physalis virginiana var. polyphylla (Greene) Waterf., Physalis virginiana var. sonorae (Torr.) Waterf.
Synonyms of Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata (Mack. & Bush) Cronquist (5): Physalis longifolia f. macrophysa (Rydb.) Steyerm., Physalis macrophysa Rydb., Physalis subglabrata Mack. & Bush, Physalis virginiana f. macrophysa (Rydb.) Waterf., Physalis virginiana var. subglabrata (Mack. & Bush) Waterf.
Synonyms of Physalis longifolia var. texana (Rydb.) J.R.Sullivan (2): Physalis texana Rydb., Physalis virginiana var. texana (Rydb.) Waterf.
Physalis longifolia Nutt. is the accepted scientific name for this species of Ground Cherry. It was named and described as such by Thomas Nuttall in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1836.
Accepted Infraspecific Names (Updated on 1-16-23 from POWO): *Physalis longifolia var. longifolia (autonym), Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata (Mack. & Bush) Cronquist, Physalis longifolia var. texana (Rydb.) J.R.Sullivan. *When an infraspecific taxon is named, an autonym (“type-specimen”) is automatically generated whose description is closest to the (original) species. All have their own list of synonyms.
Apparently, both Physalis longifolia var. longifolia (autonym) and Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata are found in Missouri (where I live). Physalis longifolia var. longifolia has narrower leaves, with Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata with somewhat broader leaves. I wanted better photos of their leaves so I could tell which variety this plant was but I couldn’t find it the next day! I looked several times and found nothing… Hmmm…
The genus, Physalis L., was named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in the first volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
As of 1-16-23 when this page was last updated, Plants of the World Online lists 95 species in the Physalis genus. It is a member of the plant family Solanaceae with a total of 99 genera. Those numbers could change periodically as updates are made on POWO.
POWO gets some of their maps for the United States and Canada from Flora of North America for families recognized on that site. When I wrote this page FNA had not yet included genera from the plant family Solanaceae. Once FNA includes this family, POWO will update their maps.
The map on iNaturalist shows where members have made observations. Anyone can join and it is a great website to confirm and share your observations. The maps on iNaturalist are continually updated as members post new observations.
THERE ARE SEVERAL LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR FURTHER READING AND TO HELP WITH A BETTER POSITIVE ID.
I ran across this plant while working in a friend’s pasture (and wildflower hunting on the side) on July 16 in 2019. As on my own farm, there were many Solanum carolinense (Horsenettle) that either had white or purplish flowers. This one had yellow flowers with purplish markings in the center. Ummm… Their fruit reminded me of Chinese Lanterns. Sadly there was only one plant on his entire farm that I noticed and I walked pretty much the whole place working on thistles for several weeks.
Once I returned home, I uploaded the first photo on iNaturalist for an ID and discovered the plant was Physalis longifolia. Common names include Common Ground Cherry, Smooth Ground Cherry, Long-Leaf Ground Cherry, Wild Tomatillo, and probably others. Although they may look similar in some ways to Solanum species and have some similar features, they are in a whole different genus. Well, I needed more photos because some that I took were a little blurry. I went back to where I was sure I found the plant and couldn’t find it. I looked nearly every day I was there and it was nowhere to be found. I kept thinking in the back of my mind that I had seen Horsenettle on my farm with yellow flowers in the past. Even so, there were certainly none here now…
Physalis longifolia is a perennial plant with deep, creeping rhizomes that can develop offsets. The Missouri Plants website lists 7 species of Physalis in Missouri, all with different features, and either annual or biennial.
Physalis longifolia is typical to many species in the plant family Solanaceae with its tree-like appearance, although some plants may be sprawlers. Plant height can be quite variable, anywhere from 16” to 30” or so. They like full sun but sometimes they can be found in part shade. They also prefer rich, loamy soil but may be found in less desirable areas. Information online says the species can be found in open woodlands, streambanks, thickets, pastures, along roadsides and railroads, abandon fields, gardens, and so on.
The stems of Physalis longifolia are usually purplish-green or green with purple markings. They are ridged (angled…) and can be smooth (glabrous) or with appressed (strigose) hairs along the angles. The stem produces many branches, the lower ones somewhat sprawling. Well, the whole plant I found was kind of drooping from the weight of the flowers and fruit.
The leaves grow in an alternate pattern along the stems and are up to 5” long and 3” or so wide. Physalis longifolia var. longifolia (the autonym) leaves are narrower while Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata are wider. Otherwise, they are basically the same. The leaves are sinuate (deeply wavy) or coarsely toothed (dentate), broadly lanceolate to kind of oval in outline. Sometimes one side of the leaves is lower (oblique) than the other.
Single drooping flowers emerge on peduncles (flower stalks) that are about 1” long from the leaf axils on the plant’s branches. The pale yellow corollas (petals) have 5 lobes that have purplish-brown patches in the center. A five-lobed calyx surrounds the corolla tubes. Flowers have 5 stamens, yellow anthers, and a 2-locular green ovary.
Strangely, the calyx tube inflates at maturity to surround the ball-shaped fruit (tomato-like), which gives it the name “husk tomato.” How weird is that? After a while, the “husk” turns brownish and becomes papery. The fruit has many flattish seeds similar to… Ummm… Tomatoes.
Of course, they are similar and in the same genus as the tomatillos used in Mexican cooking and sometimes found in the produce section at grocery stores (perhaps depending on where you live). The fruit of some species can be eaten raw while others need to be cooked first. Information suggests the fruit of Physalis longifolia need to be cooked first…
The flowers are pollinated by short-tongued which feed on the nectar and pollen. Various insects, such as certain beetle species, feed on the leaves and their larvae eat their leaves and roots. Like the tomato, the caterpillars of some moths eat the fruit…
Quail, Wild Turkeys, opossums, skunks, mice, and turtles also eat the fruit and help disperse their seeds.
During the winter while walking in an area on my farm where there usually isn’t anything interesting, I saw these dried fruits… Hmmm… They looked like what I had seen for Physalis longifolia so I took photos and double-checked. I am not 100% certain, but I think they are from this species. Well, they almost have to be. Isn’t it weird how you can walk in a certain area many times and never notice something so important until it is too late? GEEZ!!! I am almost embarrassed but definitely disappointed!
In 2020, I kept an eye on this area to see if any plants from these seeds came up. All summer long I kept checking and never found any Ground Cherry. Still nothing in 2021…
I need to get more photos of this species so I can add photos to the descriptions. You know what they say, a photo is worth a thousand words…
I found a Physalis angulata (Cutleaf Groundcherry) south of the barn in 2022. It is possible the dried fruit are that species instead of P. longifolia.
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the family farm and in other areas. The farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and identified over 250 wildflower species (most have pages listed on the right side of the page). I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing, and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky.
FOR FURTHER READING:
PLANTS OF THE WORLD ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
INTERNATIONAL PLANT NAMES INDEX (GENUS/SPECIES)
FLORA OF MISSOURI (GENUS/SPECIES)
WORLD FLORA ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
USDA PLANTS DATABASE
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
MSU-MIDWEST WEEDS AND WILDFLOWERS
KANSAS WILDFLOWERS AND GRASSES
PFAF(PLANTS FOR A FUTURE)
LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER
MONTANA FIELD GUIDE
FRIENDS OF THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN
MARYLAND BIODIVERSITY PROJECT
KANSAS NATIVE PLANTS
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
KU NATIVE MEDICINAL PLANT RESEARCH PROGRAM
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON-BURKE HERBARIUM
NOTE: The data (figures, maps, accepted names, etc.) may not match on these websites. It depends on when and how they make updates and when their sources make updates. Some websites have hundreds and even many thousands of species to keep up with. Accepted scientific names change periodically and it can be hard to keep with as well. Some of the links may use a name that is a synonym on other sites. In my opinion, Plants of the World Online by Kew is the most reliable and up-to-date plant database and they make updates on a regular basis. I make updates “at least” once a year and when I write new pages or add new photos but I do get behind. We are all a work in progress. 🙂