My Backyard Weeds – Ground Cherry There is a weed that grows seed pods that look like little Chinese lanterns. It is commonly called ground cherry, but it is also known by everything from Mexican You may have to kill Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) if they spread out of control and you decide you hate them. Here are some control methods. On my recent trip around the farm, I noticed how the flowers have begun to change. The succulents bloom in the summer, then the flowers begin to change colors. I began taking pictures of these succulent flowers when this little guy flew in and dove head first into the flowers. He must've been hungry! When…
My Backyard Weeds – Ground Cherry
There is a weed that grows seed pods that look like little Chinese lanterns. It is commonly called ground cherry, but it is also known by everything from Mexican husk tomato to gooseberry. The Golden Guide titled Weeds says there are about 80 species under it’s Latin genus of Physalis, but the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (HPIP) says only 17 of these grow in the United States. HPIP also lists 25 different common names for this weed.
The little lanterns might be cute if it weren’t for other characteristics of this weed:
The roots grow deep networks
The stem breaks easily at the root
The leaves and unripe berries are toxic
The toxicity is the same as caused by potatoes, due to solanine glycoalkaloids. The symptoms are gastrointestinal and neurological, with the severity of them depending on the dose. This University of California, Davis Review of Important Facts about Potato Glycoalkaloids succinctly covers the important details. In summary from this site and HPIP, the effects are:
- abdominal pain
While my chickens have safely foraged in a pen with a few ground cherries (the plants soon died from the constant scratching), I would be careful about letting animals like goats or horses around them. I am also going to be careful with disposing of them while my lab puppy is around, as she likes to chew on many things I pull from the garden. However, some people do harvest the fruits (completely ripe) and think they taste yummy.
Unlike some weeds, ground cherry is not all that bad to look at. There are some species in the genus that are grown for ornamentals and to harvest the ripe berries. Wild animals also eat them. The photo below is from the Missouri State weed page . They have an extensive library of weed photos there.
The plant’s presence above ground begins with a single stem that grows straight up for a couple of inches, topped by a tight bunch of leaves. This floret of leaves soon opens up, and not long after the plant forms branches that remind me of pepper plants. It is about the same height, too, typically being 1 – 3 feet high at maturity.
The variety of ground cherry that grows in my yard has shiny, smooth edge, eliptical shaped, deep green leaves. According to some resources, some plants have fuzzier leaves with some being more pointed and some more rounded.
As soon as the plants get to full size, they are quick to flower. The flowers are bell shaped, usually yellow with some dark spots in the center.
It doesn’t take much longer for the lantern seed pods to form, then dry, and drop all over the ground. Once they are dry, the lanterns break open quite easily, spreading seeds willy-nilly.
As I show in my video, digging the plants out can be frustrating. Not only do the stems or upper root sections break easily, but there are strong lateral roots under the ground that remain to sprout again. This Oregon State University extension drawing also shows these robust and evasive lateral roots . These roots seem to be perennial, as the plants tend to come back in the exact same spot year after year.
I have been able to successfully grow grass over a bare patch that once regularly sprouted an abundance of ground cherry. The grass is treated regularly to control broadleaf weeds. In other places, regular chicken scratching has eradicated the plants.
I have used weed killer, specifically Round-Up, on ground cherry in my vegetable and flower beds with limited results. It seems to knock the plant back mildly, but it keeps growing and rejuvenates quickly. It is hard to cut it back regularly enough to deplete the vitality of the roots, but if you have a small garden and a small patch, that helps some. As this summary of eradication strategies discusses , even the ornamental ground cherry varieties are considered highly invasive.
Basically, this is not a weed that you want to let grow at all. It is not just a matter of pulling up the plants at your convenience. Once it gets a foothold, there will an ongoing battle.
How to Control or Get Rid of Chinese Lanterns
They’re pretty in crafts, but invasive in real life
David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience. He was in the nursery business for over a decade, working with a large variety of plants. David has been interviewed by numerous newspapers and national U.S. magazines, such as Woman’s World and American Way.
Amanda Rose Newton holds degrees in Horticulture, Biochemistry, Entomology, and soon a PhD in STEM Education. She is a board-certified entomologist and volunteers for USAIDs Farmer to Farmer program. Currently, she is a professor of Horticulture, an Education Specialist, and pest specialist.
Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) are invasive perennial plants grown for their colorful and delicate orange pods, which, true to the common name, remind one of those paper lanterns sometimes used to decorate with. Here’s the problem with growing these plants: using rhizomes, they can easily spread out of control in your landscaping, causing you more headaches in landscape maintenance than their beauty and uniqueness warrants.
There is no magic bullet to use to control and/or kill Chinese lanterns. The best advice we can give is to employ a variety of methods (underground barriers, herbicide sprays, digging, smothering tarps) and to be as persistent as the plant is.
3 Ways to Get Rid of Chinese Lanterns
In the case of Chinese lanterns (as with other invasives that spread via rhizomes), eradication efforts must largely focus on the root system. Also expect to be battling this aggressive spreader for an extended period of time, as you would, for example, the notorious spreader, Japanese knotweed. Here’s what we recommend doing:
Use an Herbicide
You can use an herbicide (such as glyphosate) to get rid of Chinese lanterns. Herbicides don’t discriminate about what plants they affect, so you may accidentally kill some of your other plants in the process of killing the Chinese lanterns.
Dig Out the Roots
Even if you do apply an herbicide as part of your eradication approach, you can still supplement it with other control methods. You have to assume that at least part of the root system will live on to fight another day. Digging out the root system is a good choice. Make sure you try to get every last scrap of root out of there, though, because, otherwise, they’ll regenerate. To accomplish this, it helps to sift the dirt, so that you can go over it with a fine tooth comb.
Starve the Root System
Sometimes, in spite of your best effort, new shoots still pop up. You’ll have to take care of these as soon as possible, lest they send nutrients back down to the root system. The idea is to starve the root system over time. You can try covering the recalcitrant shoots with something (such as a tarp) that would smother them, depriving them of sunlight—again, as folks might do to kill Japanese knotweed.
Remove Plants Until Chinese Lanterns Are Gone
Until eradication is complete, don’t plant anything else near the Chinese lanterns. You might even want to consider digging up and potting (temporarily) any existing plants there that are in too close a contact with the Chinese lanterns. This will accomplish two things:
- If you choose to continue using an herbicide, you can do so without worrying about accidentally killing your flowers. Sometimes repeated sprayings of herbicides are required (over the course of years) to achieve eradication for some of the tougher invasive plants.
- You can avoid having the lantern rhizomes getting all tangled up with the root systems of your good plants.
Preventing Chinese Lanterns from Spreading
To isolate the Chinese lanterns and keep them from spreading any further, corral them with some kind of barrier.
Alternatively, you could avoid the spreading problem all together by just planting them in a container instead of in the ground.
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On my recent trip around the farm, I noticed how the flowers have begun to change.
The succulents bloom in the summer, then the flowers begin to change colors.
I began taking pictures of these succulent flowers when this little guy flew in and dove head first into the flowers. He must’ve been hungry!
When I started taking pictures, he stopped, backed out of the flower and looked at me and stayed there for a remarkable amount of time.
Allowing me to take more pictures.
Either I blinded him with the flash or he is confident in himself to pose for pictures.
When he got tired of posing, he crawled around and under the flower. I couldn’t get a good picture of that. Darn it!
This is a weed, no idea what it’s called. The lantern-like pods are interesting.
I’d really like to know what this is called. Maybe you know!
For now I’ll call it the Lantern Weed.
UPDATE! We now know what these are.
28 comments on “ Lantern Weed ”
That is the most interesting looking plant! Kinda scary. Wonder what’s inside of those pods.
I am horrible at knowing the names of plants. I wish I did. Because I see things that I like – but I don’t know how to tell our landscaper or the guy at the nursery what I want. Maybe I’ll make my landscaper drive around with me. Oh, wait, we have no gas…
That “weed” is very interesting, love the name you gave it. If it isn’t called “Lantern Weed” it should be.
Becky: Neat shots, your sedum looks really healthy and cute ladybug. My sedum is turning brown.
I love those fall colors that are beginning to pop out everywhere. That “lantern weed” is really fun. We don’t have that here, so can’t help you with the name at all….
Weed or no… those little lanterns are so neat!
I’ve never seen anything like that, it’s really cool!
Just don’t fall asleep anywhere near them. They look suspiciously like the pods in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.
I don’t know what it is but I like your name for it!
The lantern weed is cool…..I would keep it as a plant…..none of my weeds look that good.
Your sedum is very cool and catching the beetle was a great addition.
I’m certainly no expert but the green plant looks like a Chinese Lantern plant. If it is it should turn orange I think and have edible berries inside. I tried to find one I saw in a flower meme this week but I don’t know who had it.
Hope someone will know for sure.
I actually had a Chinese Lantern plant and those little pods do turn orange in the fall. They are very invasive so if planted in the ground they will pop up everywhere. That plant looks like the same thing I had.
Love the little bug-I think he was just showing off for you! The plant it neat-I’ve never seen one like it before.
I don’t know what it’s name is, but I love your name! I love lady bugs!! What a great photo!
you guys its called goode berries you can eat it…its yellowy orange…its a fruit…dont you guys know this..where is everyone from on here
i meant goose berries
Thats NOT goose berries. I don’t know what it is but, its taking over my garden. If anyone knows I would love to find out. Its not berries but, seed pods which spreads profusely.
The plant you called lantern weed looks like something that grew in my
yard one summer. I was told it was jimson weed – very poisonous
Jimson weed has spiky seed pods that burst open like a cotton pod. I have the weed with the little green “lantern” pods in my garden…..definitely not Jimson weed. These pods don’t turn orange like the Chinese Lantern plant when they dry, though…..they turn a papery white.
I have seen these plants (weeds) before but haven’t seen them since I was a child in Arkansas. I know they are not goose berries as I have picked many of them.
A “lantern” weed popped up in my garden this year too! We live in S.E. Michigan. Unlike the jimson weed, these lanterns are smooth, jimson weeds have prickly spikes.
I’m glad you posted about the “lantern week.” I googled it and your post came up on the top! I just took a picture of ours and I’m going to yank it off the ground… Thanks!
I found the exact green lantern weed in a flower bed this autumn.
I have had the Chinese Lanterns before, and this is not the same as the Chinese Lanterns are bright red/orange come autumn and are only about a foot or less tall. My green lantern weed is maybe three feet tall.
Each pod is protecting a seed, and I can see that many have already fallen, meaning I may have a plethoria of green lantern weeds come next year.
Your lantern plant looks like a Chinese Lantern Plant
Hi Becky. Nice blog. Thanks for posting this! I have been wondering aswell what this plant is which was in my garden. Cheers Dorr for identification :0) I am in Queensland Australia, and my “chinese lantern weed” as I called it looks exactly the same. I’ve done a bit of research and its a “Tomatillo” Physalis Alkekengi. Apparently the fruit inside is edible and has medicinal properties, but you wouldnt want to eat them if you are trying to conceive as they have natural anti-fertility properties.
Here’s a couple of links about the plant that may interest:
I originally ripped mine out because I thought that they might be poisonous, but I hope they seed again as they look beautiful.
What ever they are they are not pretty in my garden, they are taking it over, hoe do you get rid of them ? it’s too many to pull up
I read more on this and these things here get 3 feet tall, are you sure thats what they are? Never noticed any thing in the pods before.
Ground Cherry …aka: Bladder Cherry, Cape Gooseberry, Chinese Lantern, Hog-Plum, Husk-Tomato, and Wild-Pompion. The fruit inside the husk is poisonous when unripe, so you should take care to eat them only when they are yellow.
We have the same weed, southern missouri. It doesn’t turn orange, it has thousands of little seeds in each pod. We don’t know what it is either, we pull it, and it still is spreading. Any info please, email. [email protected]