The Chinese lantern plant is a unique and attractive addition to any fall garden. If you’re new to gardening, you’ll be happy to know that these plants are quite easy to grow.
This hardy perennial is primarily grown for its distinctively shaped and vibrantly colored orange or red pods, which resemble tiny lanterns.
These brightly colored Chinese lantern pods are eye catching because they come in multiple autumn colors. The orange, yellow and red cultivars provide a natural, eco friendly way to add color to your outdoor fall decor.
Keep reading to learn more about Chinese lantern plant care.
Fun facts about Chinese lantern plants
Learn about orange Chinese lantern plants with these interesting facts::
- Botanical name – Physalis Alkekengi
- Family – Solanaceae
- Plant type – perennial
- Common names – Chinese lantern, Japanese lantern, winter cherry, ground cherry
- Native region – This plant is native to regions of Europe and Asia, including China and Japan.
- Name origin – The genus name “Physalis” comes from the Greek word “physa,” meaning “bladder” or “bubble,” referring to the husk that encases the fruit of the plant.
- Medicinal uses: In traditional medicine, parts of the Chinese lantern plant have been used to treat various ailments, including sore throats, urinary tract infections, and fevers. However, the plant should be used with caution, as most parts of it can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.
- Invasiveness: In some areas, Chinese lantern plants can become invasive. Their rhizomatous roots can spread quickly and take over a garden, making them a challenge to control.
- Uses – Chinese lantern pods are bright orange and bulbous, which gives them the appearance of tiny pumpkins. This makes them an ideal Halloween plant.
Growth habit of the Chinese lantern plant
Chinese lantern plants have erect stalks which bear brown, flat heart-shaped leaves with white flowers and brightly colored, bulbous seed pods.
The Chinese lantern flowers are rather inconsequential, but the seed pods are a different story!
As the flowers mature, the petals drop and the center expands over a growing berry. This seed pod is green when young.
However, the pods transition through shades of yellow, orange, and orange-red as they age.
The seed pods mature to a bright pumpkin-orange at the end of the growing season in early fall.
When the pods develop, they become thin and brittle with a paper-like consistency. This gives the pods their typical Chinese lantern look.
As they continue to dry, especially during late summer and fall, the husks can become increasingly brittle and paper thin.
The berries inside the pod also change from green to orange when ripe. They are very sour at first and become more sweet and tangy at maturity.
Note: Only the ripe berries are edible. Other parts of the plant are inedible and are considered toxic if consumed in large quantities.
It is important to exercise caution when consuming the fruits of this plant because they are not a widely recognized food source, and some people may be sensitive to them.
The plant is fast growing and will achieve maturity in one season. Chinese lantern plants typically reach a height of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) when they are fully grown.
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How to grow Chinese lantern plant
Chinese lantern plants, are beautiful and ornamental plants. Here are some tips for Chinese lantern plant care:
Sunlight needs for Chinese lantern plants
Select a location with partial to full sunlight. Chinese lantern plants thrive in bright conditions.
Plant seeds in early spring after the danger of frost has passed, about 1/4 inch deep in well-draining soil.
Divisions of orange Chinese lantern plants are typically planted in early spring or early autumn. These are the seasons when the plants are less actively growing, and the weather is cooler.
Chinese lantern soil and watering needs
Be sure to plant in well draining soil. Chinese lantern plants prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a soil pH of about 6.0 to 7.0.
You can improve the soil quality by adding organic matter, such as compost.
Keep the soil consistently moist but don’t over-water so that it becomes water-logged. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, and more often during dry spells.
Organic mulch spread around the base of the plant will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring by following the directions on your package.
Pruning Chinese lantern plants
Chinese lantern plants typically require minimal pruning. Take the time to remove any dead or damaged growth to maintain their appearance and improve air circulation.
Some orange Chinese lantern plants can become top-heavy as they grow. To prevent this, provide support such as stakes or cages to prevent them from flopping over.
Even though the plant does not require much in the way of pruning, note that it can be quite invasive in some areas.
Chinese lantern plants are listed as invasive in several states in the United States, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. They have also been reported as a problem in parts of Canada, such as Ontario and Quebec.
The plant is also considered a nuisance species in some parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
With plants that can take over like this one, it’s a good idea to check with your local gardening center or extension service to make sure Chinese lantern plants are suitable for your area.
If your local extension service lists the plant as invasive, try growing Chinese lanterns in large pots, or grow them next to hard paving or an area that is mowed often.
Harvesting Chinese lantern pods
The distinctive lantern-like pods that encase the fruits turn papery and orange in late summer or early fall.
You can harvest these husks for decorative purposes once they are fully dry.
They can be used to make garlands, and are festive in fall decorations. Chinese lantern plants can even be made into fall wreaths for your front door.
Will Chinese lantern plants overwinter?
Chinese lantern plants are hardy perennials and can take the cold temperatures. They are winter hardy in zone 3 – 9.
In late fall, you can leave the dried pods on the plant, which adds visual interest in your garden and feed for birds during the winter months.
Fall is also a good time to plant divisions of the plant and collect seed from the dried pods for planting next spring.
Chinese lantern plant varieties
Chinese lantern plants come in a few cultivated varieties, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some notable ones:
- Physalis alkekengi var. franchetii: This is the most common Chinese lantern plant variety and is known for its bright orange or red lantern-like husks. It’s often grown for its ornamental value.
- Physalis alkekengi ‘Gigantea’: As the name suggests, this variety produces larger husks and fruits than the standard varieties. It’s often chosen for its larger and showier lanterns.
- Physalis alkekengi ‘Aurea’: This cultivar features golden-yellow foliage, adding an extra layer of visual interest to the plant.
- Physalis alkekengi ‘Variegata’: This variety has variegated foliage, which features green leaves with creamy-white margins. It adds a striking contrast to the garden.
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- Chinese lantern seeds
- Watering can or hose
- Amend your soil with compost or other organic matter.
- Plant your seeds in early spring, after danger of frost has passed, about 1/4 inch deep in well-draining soil.
- Water well but don't allow plant to become waterlogged.
- Fertilize in spring with slow release fertilizer.
- Prune any dead branches to keep tidy.
- Grow in pots if you live in an area where the plant is invasive.
- Harvest pods in fall for decorating.
- Propagation is from division in spring or fall. You can also collect seeds in fall.
- Cold hardy in zones 3 - 9.
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