Monday, August 6, 2012

Japanese Lanterns

I had a huge crop of Japanese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) in my garden this year. It's so much fun to use orange paint! Actually, I mixed it because there were several different shades. This watercolor is about 14" tall. I enjoyed working in my cool basement studio this weekend.
Japanese Lanterns are also called: Chinese Lanterns, Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato, Winter Cherry and Jerusalem Cherry. This perennial comes from southeastern Europe and Japan. It gets it's name from the distinctive color and shape of the papery husk, which resembles a Japanese Lantern.
The plant grows up to two feet tall, producing white, 5-petaled flowers in mid summer. The flowers give way to a light green, lantern-shaped husk with a berry inside. Dried, they are wonderful in arrangements. I currently have about a dozen stems in a glass vase and it's stunning. As it matures, the husk turns a bright orange-red color and turns papery. As it decays, it becomes brown and lacey, showing nothing but the veins and the single seed inside. In Virginia, it can be rather invasive in the garden.
IMPORTANT: The unripe berries and the leaves of Japanese Lantern plants are poisonous.
Tomatillos and Japanese Lanterns are both members of the deadly nightshade (Physalis) family, as are tomatoes.

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