Thursday, 31 October 2013

A monster for Halloween

I suppose it is rather fitting to have a monster plant presented on a day like today - in a bright orange colour, my monster will be known to a lot of people as something they initially put in their garden as a nice, small plant they picked up at a nursery - and then forever regretting doing that.

Meet my monster, Physalis alkekengi var. Franchettii, Chinese Lantern.
For 4 years it grew in a small pot and didn’t even flower, I almost threw it in my compost bin but decided to give it one more chance and lo and behold, last year I had a few lanterns – but the plant was still quite small.

This spring I thought I would give the plant a bit more room and re-potted in a container. I knew Physalis is a terribly invasive plant so I had already decided never to put this plant in the ground. In the container it grew, and grew and grew, and look how many lanterns I got this year!

The lanterns are surprisingly solid, not as delicate as they look in the photo.

They light up as, well.... as lanterns in my flowerbeds!

And when the lanterns go off they dry and get this see-through look which I think looks just as nice, almost like Christmas decoration.

Inside the lanterns are berries, not the edible type though, but decorative enough.

My monster plant has grown so much in just one season that it is already  time for splitting the clump, although I wasn’t prepared for what I would find when tipping out the content of the container.

Well, talk about monster plant, all these roots in just 6 months! The roots have just gone round and round inside the container, I can imagine why this is such an invasive plant in a flower bed. This plant will never, ever get in one of my beds!

It was easy enough to tease out the roots, looking even more like a monster now – like a giant spider!

I ended up with 4 good size clumps, they could probably have had a container each the size it was growing in, but I decided to squeeze the roots into pots and try to restrict the growth a bit.

The fruits of Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkekengi looks very much like the Physalis berries you can buy in supermarkets here in UK, but they are not the same type, there are several edible types and most supermarkets here sell Physalis peruviana.

A bit of info from Wikipedia:
Physalis peruviana is also known as Cape gooseberry, Inca berry, Aztec berry, Golden berry, Giant ground cherry, Peruvian groundcherry, Peruvian cherry, and just Physalis. Physalis peruviana is closely related to the tomatillo, a fellow member of the genus Physalis. As a member of the plant family Solanaceae, it is more distantly related to a large number of edible plants, including tomato, aubergines, potato and other members of the nightshades. Despite its name, it is not closely related to any of the cherry, Ribes gooseberry, Indian gooseberry, or Chinese gooseberry.

Physalis peruviana has a long shelf life after it is harvested, up to several months and next spring I am going to try grow a couple of plants and see if I can get some fruit. If we can have another summer like we had this year it should certainly be possible. Seeds and plug plants can be bought from Suttons here in UK. And they also sell Physalis edulis, a much bigger plant, which also can be grown in UK. The plants are not frost hardy so need protection during the winter or can simply be treated as annuals.

All Physalis plants are apparently equally invasive and I intend to grow mine in containers. I love the berries of Physalis, I use them in both savoury salads and fruit salads, but they are quite expensive to buy so if I can manage to get my own production going it would be brilliant. Anyone here in UK who has tried growing Physalis peruviana  or edulis outdoors? I’d love to hear about it.

And here is the finished result of the Chinese lantern from the container, a huge pile of leftover roots that ended up in my compost bin and 4 little monsters to take care of. I am certainly not keeping them all so I hope I will be able to get rid of some through the Plant Swap website, anyone who would like to adopt a well-behaved little monster please let me know, just promise to keep it in a container, never let it run free in your garden!

And finally, St Jude came and went here in London in the space of just 8 hours last Monday, it made havoc for the transport system, killed several people, uprooted hundreds of trees and made misery for several hundred thousand people who lost their electricity. My garden survived with minimal damage, nothing that can’t be replaced. I had taken lots of precautions, I put all the pots on the ground and all the garden furniture were safely stored flat on the ground. I have a young magnolia growing in a container and I laid it down on the ground which probably saved it from snapping. The wind was ferocious at times, it flattened some of my plants but only things that were due to go in the compost bin soon anyway. All in all I am very relieved at how well it went, I think I was lucky, it was rather hit and miss where the real damage happened. Now I just need a day or two out in the garden picking up leaves and clearing up, haven’t had time to do that yet and the garden still has that ‘after the storm’ look!
Until next time, take care.

34 comments:

  1. You are a wise lady Helene… as a young gardener a friend highly recommended my planting chinese lanterns IN THE GROUND!! I still get chills thinking about it!
    It's high on my list of nightmarish thugs I have grown and learned to despise… Larry

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    1. I certainly got chills when I tipped out the plant and saw the root system, the thought of having something like that growing in my flowerbeds, getting bigger and bigger year after year! And fleshy roots like that often just need a tiny piece to re-root and make a whole new plant if you try to dig it up. Yep, definitely one for a container.

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  2. Helene, I've never known that Physalis is so invasive. I have no it in my garden and now I learned your experience (not at first time!) Thank you! This storm went here too. The wind was not as strong as in your place, but the water level in Neva river was high. Some area were without electricity but the next day all was renovated.My garden wasn't damaged as well.

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    1. Physalis alkekengi is hardy down to zone 2 so you could probably grow it, just make sure you keep it in a container! Or you can grow Physalis peruviana in a container as an annual and get the lovely berries to eat too. You would probably have to start it indoors or in your greenhouse to get a long enough season, or the berries wont ripe in time.
      Good to hear your garden survived the storm without any damage.

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  3. The Chinese lanterns are just the right colour for halloween too. I'm glad Jude didn't affect you too badly!

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    1. Thanks Sue, it was scary, but over quite quickly. We had a terrible downpour most of Sunday evening and night, before the wind got really bad, and with all the trees still in leaves the noise from the wind and the rain was just deafening at times! I hope we have had our storm for this year now.

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  4. They look so very pretty in your pictures, but when you got to the part about the roots - whoa! - that is some monster! I can only imagine how it would take over! You were very wise to keep it in a container! Also smart of you to lay your magnolia tree down before the storm. Glad you're o.k., and I hope the clean up goes quickly.

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    1. Thanks Holly, I have had a very busy week and I still haven’t been able to get out in the garden and clear up – the days are so short now and it gets dark so early. I hope to get everything ship shape over the week-end, despite more rain being forecasted. And yes, the lanterns are pretty, and last for a long time, so I will definitely keep at least one of them – but not four!

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  5. Helene, you make that plant look great and treat it with more respect than I did one I grew years ago. I had to rip mine out as it was prone to strange bugs in the American Northeast area I lived in. Ironically, I looked at one the other day here in Georgia. Maybe, after seeing yours, I'll take another look.

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    1. It’s a plant that looks great, at this time of year, the rest of the year it really is just green with some tiny white flowers. If I manage to grow the edible version successfully and get a good harvest I am more than happy to get rid of this version and just grow the edible one. I have to do tough choices all the time gardening in such a small space :-)

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  6. A very informative post about a plant I have always admired but never grown and now won't. I especially like the photos of the roots, monsters indeed, and the pod cut open to reveal the heart.

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    1. Thanks Carolyn, I knew that the plant was invasive, but never thought it would grow roots that size in such a short time! Some plants are best left in containers…

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  7. I absolutely love Chinese lanterns, as I remember my grandmother growing them. Hers never seemed to be all that invasive, but I've heard enough stories from other people to be hesitant to grow them myself. Those are some amazing roots!
    I'm glad you and your garden weathered the storm with minimal effects!

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    1. I suppose it might matter where you grow them and what kind of winters you have, here in Britain they are rather invasive and I will never let mine lose!

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  8. I remember seeing your Chinese Lantern plant while we were there. The color is so vibrant. Too bad it isn't edible like the Peruvian Ground Cherry or the Clammy Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla) that we have around here. Good thing you grew it in a pot!

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    1. I have decided to try to grow the edible version next year, probably the Physalis peruviana, I hope the summer will be good enough to get a decent harvest!

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  9. That see-through-pod stage is very eye-catching. It's almost like stained glass :-) I'd never heard of an edible version of Physalis. Yours in that container among the nearly-black foliage in the background looks fantastic.

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    1. Thanks, I bet you can buy the edible Physalis in your supermarket, here they are available everywhere, although quite expensive, look in the isle for exotic fruit, next to pineapple, kiwi and mango :-)
      The black foliage is Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', next spring there will be pink peony tulips where this pot used to be, I hope that will look just as striking!

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  10. Those lanterns are beautiful, just love the colour. I will grow it in the future for sure... in a pot!

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    1. Great to hear, some monsters are best kept at bay in containers :-)

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  11. I tried this plant a few years back at the beginning of my gardening journey. I Wasn't aware it tender when I planted it. Obviously it didn't survive here, after reading your post, I'm kind of pleased!!
    Good luck in growing the edible ones next year.

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    1. Sorry to hear yours died Angie, which one did you grow? One of the edible ones? Because the Chinese lantern, Physalis alkekengi (not edible) is fully frost hardy down to zone 2 (down to -45 C), so if that was the one you had it probably didn’t die of frost. I bought mine as a little piece of root in a box from Asda, it took several years before the plant got to any size at all, and 4 years before I had any lanterns, I nearly gave it up, but look at it now! I grew it in a 2L pot until this year and it was more than happy with that size until it really took off this year.

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  12. Very wise of you to keep this Chinese lanterns in a container. I planted them years ago in the garden and they did not want to grow. Lateron one of my friends gave me an Hydrangea. I was very surprised there were Chinese Lanterns between the Hydrangeas the next year, a free gift, haha. The combination with the pink/red Hydrangeas is awful, but I cannot get rid of them.

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    1. I think you had the same experience as me, it took 4 years before mine got to this size and I almost gave up and threw the plant in my compost bin. I suppose it matters if you buy a mature plant or just grow it from a piece of root like I did, but it seems like yours needed a few years to become established too. There are solutions for getting rid of plants with fleshy roots in between other plants, it involves smearing Roundup on the leaves with a brush, putting a paper bag around it to protect other plants next to it, keep doing this on every new shoot and be patient, very patient. It can take up to 3 months for each shoot to die and several years to get rid of the whole plant. I haven’t tried it myself, but might have to do this on the Acanthus that I dug up this summer, it is already sprouting again…

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  13. Hi Helene
    I had always heard that Chinese Lantern was invasive and your roots story proved this rumour to be true. I'm very glad to hear that you had minimal damage from that huge storm. Very uncommon for England to get something that strong. Crazy weather we're all having!

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    1. Thanks Astrid, it is not uncommon to have storms here in the autumn or winter, but when we get storms this early with all the trees still in full leaves the damage tends to get much worse. This week-end we have another storm forecasted, not as bad as this Monday but we certainly will notice it! Just managed to clear up my garden before the next batch of leaves and rubbish arriving…

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  14. There are some Chinese Lanterns in a corner of the vacant lot behind our house. They have spread to fill the corner, but thankfully seem not to have spread beyond that to the adjacent grass or field.
    I don't know about the botany behind it, but it seems to me that any plant with white roots seems to be an aggressive spreader. Your shot of the inside of the plant pot was certainly an eye opener. Good thing you did not plant your Chinese Lanterns in the garden.

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    1. I think you are right about the big fleshy roots, I dug up my Achanthus spinosa this summer and am prepared for a long fight to get rid of the remaining roots, they look very similar.

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  15. Hi there
    I was warned not to plant it into my garden... because it takes it over very soon and you won't get rid of it again :o). But I love to look at those sweet Lanterns... very decorative.
    Have a lovely weekend
    Alex

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    1. Thanks Alex, I love the look of them too, and I am so glad I read up about this plant while it was still a small one in a pot! Have a great week!

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  16. A friend asked me to replant their small back yard, imagine my horror when I found a complete raised bed 10x3 feet long was absolutely packed with Physalis, had no option but to use Roundup .......... more than once!!
    A true Halloween nightmare.

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    1. Ooooh, yes, sounds like a nightmare, hope they died eventually! Good it was contained to a raised bed and not all over the garden!

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  17. There is a ground cherry of some kind across the street where I garden, but it seems to be a kind where the berries don't ripen enough to eat. I leave them for the critters, but was hoping to try to eat some of them. They are poisonous when green.

    I love the orange of yours decorative kind.

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    1. Thanks Sue, I hope to grow the edible variety next year!

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