Physalis heterophylla (Clammy Ground Cherry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Solanaceae (Potato)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy prairies, waste areas, open woods, thickets
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell

[photo of flowers] Flowers hang down on hairy stalks that arise from a leaf axil. Flowers are about ¾ inch across, bell-shaped with 5 shallow lobes, pale yellow with dark greenish to purple-brown spots on the inside at the base of the throat, densely hairy on the outer surface. There are 5 creamy yellow stamens with yellow or purple tips. The calyx has 5 pointed lobes and is densely covered in long hairs. One plant has a few to about a dozen flowers on branching stems.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are up to 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, alternately attached, softly hairy with a few coarse teeth around the edges and a stalk averaging 1 inch long. The shape is somewhat irregular, but is generally egg-shaped with a rounded base and pointed tip. The color is often a bit yellowish green and the edges may be a little wavy. Stems are branched, weakly angled, and covered in long soft hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a green berry that turns yellow when ripe. The persistent calyx inflates and becomes a papery shell shaped like an inverted tear drop that swells up and dries to tan as the fruit matures.


The flowers of Clammy Ground Cherry are nearly identical to those of Virginia Ground Cherry (Physalis virginiana), which is distinguished by leaves that are narrower and mostly toothless. The fruit of both species are edible when ripe. A third species that is uncommon in Minnesota, Long-leaf Ground Cherry (Physalis longifolia), also has similar flowers but is mostly hairless. There are 2 recognized varieties of P. heterophylla: var. rowellii that is found only in Texas, and var. heterophylla found across the US, including Minnesota, and into Canada.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos by Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Larry - Wabasha
on: 2010-04-12 21:00:02

It is prevalent at weaver dunes and near Brainerd where my grand kids really enjoy eating the fruit from CSA's

Posted by: C. Price - Brooklyn Park
on: 2010-09-08 21:03:49

There are several of these growing in my garden in my backyard. They have been coming back for several years and now I know what they are. I have not tried eating the fruit and now know they are edible.

Posted by: Steve - Scott County
on: 2011-06-26 10:14:27

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge - Louisville Swamp. Abundant in open areas with a few starting to bloom.

Posted by: Connie - Hastings
on: 2013-07-20 11:33:48

I found this growing in my flower garden. I thought it was native and am happy to have it confirmed. I will let it grow and see what it tastes like.

Posted by: Nel - Minneapolis, South Side Community Garden
on: 2013-09-15 17:41:03

One of our gardeners planted a few of these plants & we now have enough for the entire neighborhood! What are they? Are they indigenous to MN? How do we cook them?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-09-15 19:19:12

For the ground cherries in our garden (a different species), fruits are yellow when ripe, and sweet, eaten raw or dried like raisins. I believe other species of ground cherries are more like tomatillos. I don't know which of these clammy ground cherry is like. Try it and find out!

Posted by: Molly
on: 2013-09-18 10:53:53

This comment from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food may be useful:

A member of the nightshade family and a very difficult weed to control. It is found in a range of habitats in Ontario. In crop production, it prefers cultivated fields in well-drained coarse soils. Perennial, reproducing by seed and by deeply penetrating and widely spreading roots.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-09-19 14:50:34

Molly, that fact sheet put out by the Canadian government is about Pysalis virginiana, but as it pertains to agriculture. It is a native species in MN and not invasive here, though having said that, there are many native species that are well behaved in the wild but can be aggressive in cultivation (including agricultural fields). It mostly has to do with competition, though other environmental conditions do play a part. I'll just add that anything and everything in an agricultural landscape that is NOT a row crop (native or not) is considered a weed. :-(

Posted by: Daryl - Westbrook
on: 2014-09-21 20:43:17

We just found a small stand of these in a county park, under mulberry trees and elderberry bushes.

Posted by: S. Haack - SW MN near Lake Benton
on: 2015-07-10 18:51:31

Found these in a small pasture behind my house. . .it is mostly virgin prairie. . just trying to pay closer attension to find out what all I've got growing out there. Would love to find a source to get large amounts of native wildflower seed to plant here.

Posted by: roy - born and raised in sauk centre
on: 2015-09-07 10:00:16

I am growing ground cherries this year in a self watering container. the question is the plants have some husks that don't seem to be filling and there a tons of clusters of small green berries without husks. Ive never noticed them in years past, any ideas what they are?

Posted by: Becky - Savage
on: 2016-08-23 09:50:44

I found these growing wild in my garden and a nearby stand of trees. These are new, along with other "weeds" not noticed before (pig weed and velvet leaf). As I have planted ground cherries before, I knew what these natural ones were. The wild ones taste very much like the nursery plants.

Posted by: Kate - Columbia Heights - near Lake Sullivan
on: 2017-06-19 14:13:34

Noticed a massive patch of these growing along the alley side of my garage! Could be that I've never noticed them in the past but I believe these are new this year. No clue how they ended up on such a gnarly/crappy piece of real estate but they are really thriving.

Posted by: Leah B - Ramsey
on: 2017-07-22 00:47:23

This plant grows on the part of my back yard that slopes to the road below. The first time I saw it with its fruit, I thought it was a creepy looking nightshade and pulled it up. I later learned, regretfully, that it was native and edible. This year I am reclaiming the hillside from an invasion of elm tree seedlings and have been happy to learn I have a pretty good colony of clammy ground cherries. If the rabbits leave them alone, I might have a half decent harvest!

Posted by: Andrew - owatonna, Steele county
on: 2018-09-29 15:43:58

I just identified a bunch of these in our garden. They weren't here before. There's a lot of black and bittersweet nightshade in our yard, and last year I grew potatoes, a variety of tomatoes, and tomatillos. I thought at first that these were volunteer tomatillos, but I they're staying small and falling while the calyx is mostly empty. Despite last night's cold, they're still flowering. I have photographed various details, as this is not a previously recorded county.

Posted by: Margaret - Crystal
on: 2019-06-26 13:43:35

I am looking for this cherries. My mother used to bake bread and cake with them, and I miss them. Thanks

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-06-26 19:05:37

Margaret, ground cherries should be available in the native plant nursery trade. See "Where to buy native seeds and plants" that should be on most pages of this website, including the ground cherry pages. If none of those vendors carry it they may know who does.

Posted by: Carly - Goodview, MN
on: 2019-11-10 10:13:03

Small stand at La Canne park by fishing dock

Posted by: Russell - Clearbrook, Mn. (Clearwater Co.)
on: 2020-03-31 22:30:57

In the 1950's we found them around where we lived and really enjoyed eating them. I no longer live in Minnesota but I have wanted to try them again as I remember the excellent flavor of the ground cherry. I have some plants started for our garden this year and can't wait to try them again.

Posted by: Barb - Bloomington (Old Shakopee Rd & Normandale Blvd)
on: 2020-04-16 14:42:23

These grow at the edge of the woods north of our condo. They have come back every year for the last 30 years.

Posted by: Melanie H - Faribault County, Guckeen
on: 2021-08-17 12:13:23

I'm new to plant identification, using the ap Seek, and am confused between this plant, the ground cherry, and "flower of an hour", identified in close proximity. Any hints to differentiate them?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-08-17 13:36:53

Melanie, you can easily differentiate them by the leaves. Also flower of an hour (Hibiscus trionum) has larger flowers that do not have fused petals, and neither its flowers nor fruits are dangling, but are upright.

Posted by: Dan Dockham - Mankato
on: 2022-08-09 12:17:31

Grows like a weed in my garden if I'm not on top of it

Posted by: Diane L. - New Market Township
on: 2023-07-20 18:55:00

I believe this is the plant I've just removed. It had grown to a pretty good size in an obscure corner of the yard and had a few flowers and some fruit. Its leaves were quite broad with smooth edges. It seemed very happy in full shade. I'm glad to know it's edible as I have a dog who likes to graze.

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