Friday 17 February 2017

Chinese Lantern

Image: Isfugl
The Chinese Lantern is a hardy perennial that will provide you with all the natural, biodegradable paper lanterns you could ever want!

(Candles sold separately)

Image: Isfugl
It's also known by such delightful names as Winter Cherry and Strawberry Groundcherry, as well as less appealing names like Bladder Cherry. No-one seems to call it the Winter Tomato or the Groundtomato or the Hot Air Tomato or anything else to do with tomatoes. I guess tomatoes are less romantic and ice-creamy than cherries, but the Chinese Lantern is at least part of the nightshade family, just like the tomato.

It reaches up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall and can be found from the Caucasus just east of Europe, through to China. So at least they got (half) right.

Image: J├╝rgen Mangelsdorf
They bloom in the summer months, when lots of small, perfectly pentagonal flowers open. Then the sepals turn red and grow into that red, papery lantern.

The fruit develops within the plush shield, hidden from view and protected from pests. But then...

Image; flora cyclam
The lantern dries up. It turns white and crumbles away to leave a kind of leafy skeleton.

Suddenly the fruit is visible within an elaborate, gothic cage.

Image: Amadej Trnkoczy
And they look like tomatoes! They don't taste like them, though. And they don't taste like cherries either. They're edible, just not very nice.

Shame. It would have been so convenient if they were delicious fruit growing in their own paper, gift bags!

Image: Kevin Krebs
Also the gift bag is poisonous. It may not look like much, but that paper lantern is provides effective protection to those precious, seed-packed fruit.

And, of course, they look lovely! This, along with the fact that they're easy to care for, means that Chinese Lanterns are now found in gardens all over Europe and North America. All they need is a bit of light and not too much frost, and there's a good chance they'll do well. Maybe even too well.

Image: Christian S.
Chinese Lanterns have no respect for borders, least of all flower bed borders. They send out rhizomes which sprout into new plants that can easily take over the whole garden and beyond, becoming an invasive species in numerous countries. Suddenly that beautiful, ornamental plant that brightened up the corner of the garden is a weed - the right plant in the wrong place - an unstoppable nemesis clad in poison hearts and skeleton cages.

On the bright side, it's your very own Chinese lantern festival! Whether you like it or not.


Unknown said...

I don't know about Chinese Lanterns but ground cherries are good eating. I've grown them in my garden. Some people even make pies with them, after removing the fruits from the cute little paper wrappers of course.

Joseph JG said...

Ahhh! Now that's really cool. Strange how much tasty food can be found in the less deadly parts of the nightshade family!