What Is Ground Cherry? (5 Key Things To Know)

Never heard of Ground Cherries? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Once a common pantry item, these fruits disappeared when we started relying on global food transportation. As more people are discovering a love of growing their own food, Ground Cherries are coming back in vogue. They’re easy to grow and an amazingly delicious and prolific fruit to grow, especially if you have a small garden. But what are Ground Cherries?

Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are small-growing bushes with small orange fruits that grow inside a papery husk. The fruits fall to the ground when ripe and taste like a non-acidic pineapple. One plant can produce 100+ fruit, and so long as their husk remains intact, the fruits can stay in the fridge for up to 3 months.

However, it’s important to remember that most parts of the Ground Cherry plant are poisonous – including unripened fruit. While they’re called Ground Cherries, they’re not actually cherries. They’re part of the Solanaceae family, and like other nightshades, you shouldn’t eat their leaves or unripened fruit. Symptoms may include headache, stomach pain, low temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and loss of sensation.

ground cherry fruit and husks
Ground cherries are toxic when unripe.

To harvest, wait until the papery husk turns brown and the fruit drops off the stem. If the fruit tastes bitter, they are not ready. Once ripened, they’re safe for human consumption. If you’re allergic to nightshades, don’t eat Ground Cherries. 

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What Are Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa)?

  • Type: Annual
  • Family: Solanaceae
  • Pot Size: 12 to 14 inch pot (5 to 7 gallons)
  • Light Requirement: Light Shade to Full Sun
  • Water Requirement: Keep moist
  • Germination: 5 to 15 days
  • Days To Maturity: 65 to 90 days post transplant
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Toxicity: All parts except ripened fruit are toxic if ingested

Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are a yellow or orange fruit that grows inside a papery husk. Ground Cherries get their name from their fruit falling to the ground once they ripen. 

ground cherry fruit with husks
Ground cherries have a papery husk that surrounds the fruit, which is yellow or orange when ripe.

They belong to the nightshade Solanaceae family, like tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and potatoes. That means they’re susceptible to the same pests and contain solanine. If you’re allergic to nightshades, then you’re also allergic to Ground Cherries.

Ground Cherries are usually only found in home gardens and small farms. They’re difficult to grow in large-scale agriculture. The papery husk hides their ripeness. They’re harder to harvest en masse because of their habit of falling to the ground when ripe. And they don’t last long when shipped. However, they’re excellent in home gardens. They produce prolifically, with just one plant producing as many as 100 or more fruits until the first frost. You only need 1 or 2 plants to keep yourself in Ground Cherries.

The Physalis genus includes 75 different plants, and since they’re a relatively unknown fruit, most gardeners get them mixed up. It may be hard to find seeds for the species that you want, especially as many seed packets only include variety and not species.

Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are sprawlers, growing to a compact height and width of 2 feet. The fruit grows into the husk, which is rounder than other species, and turns from green to brown. Aunt Molly and Goldie are the two most popular varieties.

ground cherry on plant green husks
Ground cherry plants are compact, at a height and width of 2 feet at maturity.

Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) is what you’ll find at grocery stores. Also known as Cape Gooseberry or Peruvian Ground Cherry, they’re not as sweet as Ground Cherries. They grow more like tomatillos, growing as tall as 4 feet. 

Cossack Pineapple (Physalis pubescens) is a sweet alternative that produces smaller fruits. They only grow to 2 feet tall, but often look smaller because the branches bend over when growing. 

Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) looks like their namesake. Their papery husk is orange and shaped like a paper lantern. They’re not grown for food but for floral displays. 

A few native Physalis species are considered weeds, including Clammy Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla).

Except for Chinese Lantern, it doesn’t particularly matter if you grow the true Ground Cherry or not (so long as the fruit is safe to eat). You can try growing all three to decide which one you like the best. Knowing the difference (and the confusion) will help you find and share the right information. 

Is A Ground Cherry A Tomato?

No, Ground Cherries aren’t tomatoes, but they belong to the same Solanaceae family. Some people think that Ground Cherries taste a bit like a tomato, although a lot sweeter and nuttier. Many facets of growing Ground Cherries are the same as growing tomatoes, so if you can grow one, you can easily grow the other. 

tiny tomato plants picture
Tomatoes (shown here) are in the same family as ground cherries, but they are differeent plants.

Are Ground Cherries Safe To Eat?

Yes, Ground Cherries are safe to eat once they’re ripe. Just don’t eat the foliage, tubers, unripened fruit, or the papery husk that protects the ground cherry. Treat them like you’d treat any nightshade, and only eat the ripened fruit. Solanine levels drop off in the fruit as it ripens. Ground cherries have a sticky substance covering them, so wash that off before eating.

You can touch any part of the plant with bare skin with no harm.

However, if you’re allergic to nightshades (like tomatoes and peppers), then do not eat Ground Cherries! Ripe Ground Cherries still contain solanine.  

ground cherry green on plant
Unripe ground cherries contain solanine, which is a toxin.

What Does A Ground Cherry Taste Like?

Ground Cherries taste sweet and zesty, but the taste profile varies depending on the person. The confusion between different species probably doesn’t help. Some people say that they taste like vanilla and pineapple (without the acidic taste), or that they taste fruity and nutty. The best way to find out is to grow your own, or find some at the farmer’s market.

What Are Ground Cherries Used For?

Ground Cherries are used for eating! You can eat them by themselves, or use them as a topping for oatmeal or yogurt. 

The best ways to enjoy Ground Cherries include:

ground cherry in tan husk
You can put ripe ground cherries in yogurt or salads – but there are many other uses.

If you keep Ground Cherries in their husk, they can remain fresh in your fridge for two to three months, no other prep required! If the husk is damaged, then you should eat them within 10 days or remove the husk for freezing. Frozen, unhusked Ground Cherries last for two or three months.

Can You Grow Ground Cherries In Containers?

When it comes to container gardens, you don’t have many sweet treat options. You can grow some berry bushes in containers, but then you have to find a way to overwinter them. However, Ground Cherries grow really well in containers, and they’re annuals, so you don’t need to worry about overwintering them. 

Ground Cherries need a pot that’s 12 to 14 inches in diameter, or about 5 gallons (19L) to 7 gallons (26L). That’s smaller than what you’d need to grow regular tomatoes (10 to 20 gallons), but about the same for dwarf tomatoes (5 to 7 gallons). 

clay pots
You can grow ground cherries in containers, but they need protection during winter to survive the cold.

They grow like a bush, so you don’t need to trellis them, but it can be handy. They grow as wide as they grow tall, so a trellis can save horizontal space. 

How To Grow Ground Cherries

When To Start Ground Cherries

Start Ground Cherries 2 weeks before you would tomato seeds. If you have a longer growing season, then that would be about 6 to 8 weeks. If you have a short, sow them in larger cells 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. Ground Cherries grow slowly, so you need that extra time for the fruits to develop.  

Sow the seeds ¼ inch deep. Seeds should germinate within 5 to 8 days, although it may take longer. If you keep your house and seedling station at around 75F (21C), they’ll be warm enough to germinate. But if you grow your seedlings in a cool spot, use a heating mat. Like tomatoes, they like warm soil for germination.

When To Transplant

Like Tomato plants, Ground Cherries are very susceptible to frost. Transplant only when the risk of frost has gone (the same time as tomatoes). 

Where To Plant

Don’t plant Ground Cherries next to their nightshade cousins. They attract the same pests and they use the same resources. They’ll just get in each other’s way. 

Space Ground Cherries 2 to 3 feet apart, as that’s how wide they’ll sprawl. You can trellis them with a tomato cage, but you don’t need to.

Ground Cherries grow best with 8 to 10 hours of sunlight, even with intense heat. The papery husk protects the fruit from intense sunlight. They also tolerate light shade. 

How To Care For Ground Cherries

Take care of Ground Cherries like you would tomatoes, with a few key differences. 

Ground Cherries do best with consistent moisture. Mulch the soil to help the soil maintain moisture in between watering. Using black plastic or paper mulch can help speed up harvest.

Incorporate compost into the soil during the spring before transplanting. Despite their prolific production, they may not need more fertilizer during the growing season. Avoid using too much nitrogen. Too much nitrogen encourages leafy growth while delaying fruit production. Ground Cherries take a long time to produce fruit as it is. You might miss your harvest window before the first frost.

You also don’t need to prune. While they’re technically indeterminate, they grow as a bush. A tomato cage may help keep them from sprawling all over your garden. 

Ground Cherries self-seed prolifically, so keep that in mind. If you’re trying them out for the first time, grow them in a pot away from open soil to help reduce their spread. In the garden, remove ripened fruit. A lot of wildlife love Ground Cherries, though, and so they’ll help spread the seeds.

How To Harvest Ground Cherries

Knowing when Ground Cherries are ready to harvest is key. Unripened Ground Cherries taste very bitter and contain higher amounts of solanine. As they ripen, they get sweeter and the solanine levels drop, making them safe for consumption. Once the papery husk has turned beige or brown and the fruit has dropped to the ground, then you can safely harvest them.

Ground Cherries are prolific producers. Just one plant can yield up to 100 fruits by the late fall. They’ll continue producing until the first frost kills them.


Ground Cherries are a low maintenance way to grow your own sweet treats without committing to perennials. They’re even a great contender for a container garden. Just make sure that you only harvest fully ripened fruit. 

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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