Grape groundcherry [Physalis viscosa L.][Bayer code: none][CDFA list: B] Map of Distribution Photographs

Long-leaf groundcherry [Physalis longifolia Nutt.][PHYLF][CDFA list: A] Map of Distribution Photographs

Wright groundcherry [Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.][Bayer code: none] Photographs

Tomatillo Photographs [Physalis philadelphica Lam.][PHYIX]

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SYNONYMS: Complete synonymy for these species is unclear and beyond the scope of this publication.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Erect, bushy, or sprawling plants with nodding, +/- bell-shaped, yellow to cream-colored flowers and berries completely enclosed in loose papery husks (enlarged calyx). There are numerous similar groundcherry species and varieties native to Central and Southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Species identification is difficult, and taxonomists have yet to completely resolve the taxonomy of the genus. Confusion of species and varieties in publications has been common. A few species are cultivated for their edible berries, but unripe fruits of some species may be toxic if ingested. Foliage is suspected of being toxic to livestock when ingested. However, animals usually avoid eating plants when possible. Definitive studies concerning toxicity of foliage and fruits are lacking.

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SEEDLINGS: Cotyledons lanceolate, ~ 3-12 mm long, ~ 1-4 mm wide. Subsequent leaves ovate to lanceolate, sometimes pubescent, increasingly larger. Taproots weak, with many fibrous lateral roots.

MATURE PLANT: Stems +/- weakly woody at the base in perennials. Leaves alternate to +/- opposite near stem tops, variable, typically ovate, lanceolate, or elliptic, with entire to irregularly coarse-toothed margins. Refer to the table Comparison of groundcherries (Physalis spp.): berries enclosed in papery husks for descriptions of distinguishing characteristics.


FLOWERS: June-October. Flowers non-fragrant, axillary, solitary (rarely in clusters of 2-5), typically pendant on stalks. Anthers shorter than filaments, open by longitudinal slits. Insect-pollinated.

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FRUITS and SEEDS: Mature berries yellowish to orange or purple, enclosed in pendant papery husks (enlarged calyx). Husks loose, ovoid, ~ 15-35 mm long, 10-ribbed, +/- 10-angled to rounded. Berries disperse enclosed in the husks. Seeds numerous, yellowish, +/- round to kidney-shaped, flattened, minutely pitted, ~ 2 mm long.

POSTSENESCENCE CHARACTERISTICS: Husk skeletons can persist on the ground for extended periods after berries decompose. Woody stems of perennial species may persist through winter.

HABITAT: Disturbed, open places, waste areas, fields, roadsides, cultivated fields.


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PROPAGATION/PHENOLOGY: Reproduce by seed. Grape and longleaf groundcherry also reproduce vegetatively from creeping roots. Berries disperse near the parent plant or are transported to greater distances with water, animals, and human activities such as cultivation and harvest operations. Animals often consume berries and disperse seeds in their droppings. Passing through the digestive tract of an animal appears to enhance grape groundcherry seed germination. For other species, seed survival and germination enhancement of ingested seed is undocumented. Seeds typically germinate in spring. Grape and longleaf groundcherry root fragments as small as 1.5 cm long can regenerate new plants under optimal conditions. Information regarding seed germination requirements and longevity under field conditions is lacking.

MANAGEMENT FAVORING/DISCOURAGING SURVIVAL: Mowing plants after berries develop facilitates seed dispersal. A one-week quarantine of livestock coming from fields infested with plants in fruit can prevent seed introduction into uninfested areas.

SIMILAR SPECIES: Lanceleaved groundcherry [Physalis lanceifolia Nees] and downy groundcherry [Physalis pubescens L. vars. grisea Waterf. and integrifolia (Dunal.) Waterf.] are weedy summer annuals that grow in the same types of habitats described previously, but also tolerate wet soils. Refer to the table Comparison of groundcherries (Physalis spp.): berries enclosed in papery husks for descriptions of distinguishing characteristics. Lanceleaved groundcherry is sometimes troublesome in rice fields. It occurs in the Central Valley, San Francisco Bay region, eastern South Coast Ranges, and Sonoran Desert, to 200 m (660 ft). Introduced from South America. Downy groundcherry occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and southwestern South Coast Ranges (var. integrifolia), and southeastern Sierra Nevada and deserts (var. grisea), to 1500 m (5000 ft). Introduced from Eastern U.S.

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Prevention: These groundcherries are part of a taxonomically complex genus (Physalis) in the Solanaceae. The native range of Physalis longifolia extends across much of the United States, and P. viscosa is native to the south central United States. Neither species is native to California. These plants are good colonizers of disturbed areas and persist in agricultural fields and along roadsides and ditches. However, they are also a natural component of prairie grasslands and are good competitors for moisture and nutrients. There have been reports of hybridization between Physalis virginiana and P. heterophylla. However, the hybridization potential between P. virginiana and the native California Physalis spp. is unknown.
These perennials utilize several dispersal mechansms. Fruits abscise from the plant, but normally remain within a protective bladder, that is wind and water dispersed. In Australia, populations have rapidly spread along irrigation ditches and waterways. Numerous animals, including foxes, birds, and livestock readily eat the fruits, and seed viability appears to be enhanced after the seeds pass through animals. Seed may also be spread in contaminated hay, or other crop seed, such as alfalfa. On arable land, cultivation is the primary means of spread. Shoots arise from root buds on lateral roots and new plants may establish from rootstock pieces as small as 1.5 cm. Avoid infrequent cultivation through groundcherry patches and thoroughly clean tillage equipment before moving to uninfested fields.

Mechanical: As previously suggested, infrequent cultivation is not recommended. However, intensive cultivation every 7-10 days over the growing season may deplete energy reserves in the roots and reduce infestations. Small patches may be repeatedly hoed in the same fashion. Control may be better if conditions following tillage are warm and dry.
There is no available information on mowing as a control strategy. Mowing during the early bud to flowering stage may reduce topgrowth and limit seed production. However, it may result in an increase in shoot emergence from adventitious buds on lateral roots. Mowing should never be done after seed production, as this will likely facilitate seed dispersal.

Biological: Biological control strategies have not been pursued for these species, which are native to other areas of the United States. In Australia, the foliage of P. viscosa is suspected to be toxic to livestock. However, livestock generally only consume the berries, with no apparent ill effects. The berries of both species are valued for jam making and other cooking purposes.
Established stands of either species are very strong competitors. However, research from Australia has indicated that established stands of alfalfa and some clovers effectively outcompete P. viscosa.

Chemical: Certain herbicides provide effective control of these perennial groundcherry species. Table 1 provides herbicide information relevant to California.

Table 1. Herbicides effective for groundcherry control

Herbicide Rate Timing
Glyphosate 3 quarts /A Spot treatment (late bud to flower)
Glyphosate 2% Spot treatment (late bud to flower)
Dicamba 1-2* quarts /A Spot treatment (late bud to flower)
2,4-D ester 2 Spot treatment (late bud to flower)

* 1 quart provides suppression, 2 quarts provides good control

Picloram, which is not currently labeled in California, also provides excellent control of perennial groundcherry species. Triclopyr has been proven less effective and is not recommended specifically for groundcherry control. In Australia, clopyralid has been effective for controlling P. viscosa. Always refer to the herbicide label for precautionary information regarding safety and proper herbicide usage.

Abdullahi, A. E. and Cavers, P. B. 1963. Factors affecting regeneration from root fragments in two Physalis species. Phytoprotection. 78:23-33.
Donaldson, T. W. 1984. Chemical control of prairie ground cherry (Physalis viscosa L.). Australian Weeds 3:13-15.
Hickman, J. C. 1993. The Jepson Manual. Higher Plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hinton, W. F. 1975. Natural hybridization and extinction of a population of Physalis virginiana (Solanaceae). Am J Bot. 62:198-202.
Parsons, W. T. and Cuthbertson, E. G. 1992. Noxious Weeds of Australia. Melbourne: Inkata Press.
Sullivan, J. R. 1984. Pollination biology of Physalis viscosa var. cinerascens (Solanaceae). American Journal of Botany 71:815-820.
Sullivan, J. R. 1985. Systematics of the Physalis viscosa complex (Solanaceae). Systematic Botany 10:426-444.
Thomson, C. E. and Witt, W. W. 1987. Germination of cutleaf groundcherry (Physalis angulata), smooth groundcherry (Physalis virginiana), and eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum). Weed Sci 35:58-62.

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