Few people know the proper name of the cape gooseberry, though Physalis peruviana gives a handy clue on origin – Peru. So it joins other South American fruits such as feijoas, the NZ cranberry and the tamarillo which are easy to grow here. This is a wild fruit that you leave growing more for browsing upon or for encouraging children out to forage rather than for substantial harvests. That said, if you can get enough, it stews well and makes a fine, tasty jam.
Cape gooseberries are a solanum and you may spot the physical similarities to other solanums like tomatoes, aubergine, potato and even the nightshades. Tomatillos are also related. They all look even closer relatives at this time of the year when mildew blights the foliage. Theoretically, you can certainly grow them as a tidy row in the vegetable garden but in practice, most people just let seedlings go in rougher areas or margins of the garden where a bit of untidiness doesn’t matter. The little green fruit which turn yellow when ripe are extremely decorative in their papery sheaths, but the rest of the plant is pretty scruffy. In mild conditions, the plant will stay as a short lived perennial but in colder areas it is generally treated as an annual. The more summer heat it receives, the better crop you will get.
If you have a friend with a plant, get a ripe squishy fruit and grow the seed. Once you have it growing, it gently seeds down. It is sometimes available for sale in the garden centres but all plants grown in this country will be seedlings, not named selections, so you might as well start from free seed if you can.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.