Learn about groundcherries, including varieties and how to plant and grow them.
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When is a tomato, not a tomato? When it’s a cherry? If that doesn’t make much sense, you’ll understand the confusion over ground cherries. These tomato family fruits grow close to the ground. The “cherry” refers to the yellow fruit inside the papery husk. The fruits have a sweet flavor with just a hint of tomato.
Ground cherry is native to Chile and Peru. European explorers introduced it to South Africa in the 1800s and that’s how it got one of its common names, the Cape gooseberry. It’s also known as the Inca berry, golden berry or my favorite, Amour en cage, or love in a cage. Ground cherries have also gotten popular. We recently returned from a vacation in Maine and saw ground cherries for sale for $6/pint at a local market. Luckily, you don’t have to spend that kind of money to have these tasty treats in your garden.
If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow ground cherries. Select named varieties such as ‘Goldie’ and start them indoors 6 weeks before your last frost. Transplant seedlings into well-drained, compost-amended soil in full sun. I pay little attention to our ground cherries until September when they come into full glory. Harvest the papery husks when they turn yellow or drop off the plant. The “love in a cage” is the yellow fruits inside that keep producing until frost.
Once you grow ground cherries in your garden you’ll have them forever. They self sow readily. Each spring I thin out our patch of seedlings, spacing them 1 foot apart. You can eat them fresh, or make pies, salsa, jams or bread. You can even buy some ground cherry fruits at the local farmer’s market now and spread some of the fruits in your garden. The seeds will survive the winter and germinate next spring.