Ghostly Gardening: Fun With the Chinese Lantern Plant

This vibrant berry with anti-inflammatory properties is an ideal Halloween decoration or semisweet jam

Credit: Carol Pope

The papery husks of the Chinese lantern plant turn a vibrant orange just in time for Halloween.


This vibrant berry with anti-inflammatory properties is an ideal Halloween decoration or semisweet jam


Getting into the Halloween spirit at Victoria’s Cannor Nursery/Wildwood Outdoor Living Centre, I couldn’t resist the display of Physalis alkekengi, a.k.a. liv’n lanterns, Chinese lantern plant, strawberry ground cherry or bladder cherry. Similar to tomatillos, this plant produces showy paper-like husks that wrap around ripening fruit – and in the case of P. alkekengi, they turn from green to bright orange just in time for Halloween.

Grown outside, this perennial is hardy to zone 3, reaching 60 cm (2 ft.) in height and blooming in mid summer. It likes well-drained soil and a sunny location . . . in fact, sometimes it likes these conditions a bit too much, as it can spread aggressively via underground rhizomes and self-seeding. Keep an eye on it, or contain it in a pot.

When the husk fades from bright red/orange to a transparent beige/white, the ripe-red fruit (like a large berry) is ready to eat. Very rich in vitamin C and some antioxidants, it is thought to have value as an anti-inflammatory. Use the tart berries to make a substitute “cranberry sauce”: barely simmer a cup of this fruit for half an hour or so with enough water to prevent sticking and then add sugar by the teaspoon to achieve your desired sweetness.

Other than the ripe fruit, however, all parts of this member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family – including unripe fruit and the husk (calyx) – are poisonous. And it’s wise to avoid eating too much of even the mature fruit at one time, as it’s a strong diuretic and has laxative qualities. Pregnant women should avoid eating the fruit altogether.

To dry the husks for decoration, simply harvest the branches as soon as the lanterns turn bright orange and hang upside down in a cool, dry indoor space.

Pumpkin Fast Facts

Here’s some fun pumpkin facts shared by Matt Hall of Victoria’s Cannor Nursery/Wildwood Outdoor Living Centre:

  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bits.
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
  • Pumpkins are 90 per cent water.
  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  • Pumpkins are fruit.
  • Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween dates back to hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then, however, jack-o’-lanterns were typically made out of turnips or potatoes. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in North America and discovered the pumpkin that a new Halloween ritual was born.