Physalis pubescens L.

Downy Ground Cherry


CC = 4
CW = 5
MOC = 63

© SRTurner

Family - Solanaceae

Habit - Annual forb, more or less taprooted.

Root - No info. yet

Physalis_pubescens_root.jpg Taproot.

© DETenaglia

Stem - Ascending, to 80 cm, with relatively few, loosely ascending to spreading branches, glabrous to moderately pubescent toward the tip with short, spreading, multicellular, mostly gland-tipped hairs 0.1-0.5 mm long, often also with moderate to dense, longer (1-3 mm), spreading, nonglandular hairs.

Physalis_pubescens_stem.jpg Stem.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, simple, petiolate. Blades 2-8 cm long, ovate to broadly ovate or nearly circular, angled or short-tapered to a sharply pointed tip, broadly rounded to more or less truncate at the base, the margins entire or relatively sparsely toothed, minutely hairy, the teeth shallow and broad, the surfaces green when fresh, drying uniformly green, sparsely to moderately pubescent (more densely on the undersurface) with short, mostly gland-tipped, multicellular hairs.

Physalis_pubescens_leaves.jpg Leaves.

© SRTurner

Physalis_pubescens_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescences - Solitary axillary flowers, the stalks 3.5-9.0 mm long, becoming elongated to 6-15 mm at fruiting.

Flowers - Actinomorphic, hypogynous, perfect, usually nodding. Calyces 3-6 mm long at flowering, the lobes 1.0-3.5 mm long, the outer surface with sparse to dense, short, multicellular, nonglandular hairs at flowering, persistently hairy at fruiting, at fruiting becoming elongated to 20-30 mm long, sharply 5-angled, concave at the base, green or pale brown to tan. Corollas 6-11 mm long, pale yellow to lemon yellow, the inner surface with 5 large, prominent dark purplish brown spots toward the base (these sometimes merged into a ring or appearing smudged). Stamens with broad filaments about as wide as the anthers, the anthers 1-2 mm long, blue or bluish-tinged, arched but not coiled after dehiscence.

Physalis_pubescens_calyx.jpg Calyx.

© SRTurner

Physalis_pubescens_corolla.jpg Corolla.

© SRTurner

Physalis_pubescens_corolla2.jpg Corolla.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Juicy berries 1.0-1.2 cm long, green or yellow, occasionally purplish-tinged. Seeds numerous, 1.5-2.5 mm in longest dimension, asymmetrically ovate, flattened, the surface minutely pitted, somewhat shiny, light yellow or yellowish brown.

Physalis_pubescens_fruit.jpg Fruit.

Encased and hidden within inflated, strongly 5-lobed calyx.

© SRTurner

Physalis_pubescens_berry.jpg Berry.

© SRTurner

Physalis_pubescens_seeds.jpg Interior of berry.

© SRTurner

Flowering - May - November.

Habitat - Streambanks, sloughs, pond margins, moist depressions, crop field margins, railroads, moist disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Other species of Physalis, especially P. heterophylla, P. cordata, and P. grisea.

Other info. - This species of ground cherry is found scattered throughout most of Missouri, except for the northwestern quadrant of the state where it is uncommon or absent. It is also found scattered to uncommon through much of the continental U.S., and extends southward into South America.

Ground cherries are easily recognized by their squat, branched habit, pendent pale yellow flowers, and distinctive fruits enclosed in papery husks. Identification to species can be a bit of a challenge, with careful evaluation of several characters necessary for a confident determination. Important attributes of Physalis pubescens are an annual habit (taproots rather than rhizomes), glandular hairs on the leaves, distinct purple spots near the base of the corolla, and husks over the fruits which are strongly 5-ribbed (rather than the more common 10-ribbed pattern).

The fruits of ground cherries are edible when mature, and are sometimes used to prepare salsas and preserves.

Photographs taken in Logan Creek, Reynolds County, MO., 7-7-03 (DETenaglia); also along the Katy Trail west of Treloar, Warren County, MO, 7-25-2019, and Katy Trail near Dutzow, Warren County, MO, 8-18-2023 (SRTurner).