SOLVED: tomatillo in my corn patch?

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

ive always wondered what these were... a wild tomatillo? they look just like a mini one....

Thumbnail by leeannconner
Raleigh, NC(Zone 7b)

Physalis sp. (not sure which one) - same genus as tomatillo.

Gladstone, OR

Could you get a close-up of one of the flowers (or a description)?

Gladstone, OR

Physalis acutifolia
see pic >

The upper leaves on your plant more closely resemble the typical foliage for
Physalis acutifolia (probably due to the plant being partially to heavily shaded) - this is the best candidate that I've been able to find so far that best matches your plant, but confirmation from you on the flowers is the best way to tell for sure.

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

wow. thanks for all the feedback, I will check out the links and write back. I can say that the flowers are white, and not yellow like the one we see on the commercial tomatillo plants. I dont think these turn yellow when ripe either. more soon.

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

Please also note that CalFlora lists all three of these possible Physalis sp. as: Toxicity: MAJOR, so don't eat them as they are not true tomatillos, just cousins :).

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

Thanks Ogon.. yeah those nightshades.. scare me a bit.. as do yeah...... thanks much for the Warning. :)

Gladstone, OR

I think that for a good positive ID that good close-up pics of the flowers will be required, along with other details of the fruit and leaves., what makes it especially difficult is the general appearance of the plant in shaded conditions, which will be quite different than that of one which grows out in the open. Is there any chance of getting a pic of a plant growing out in full sunlight?

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

Yes, I have to get my camera as i left it at my Mothers house. when i get it back in a couple of days i will get details of the flowers,fruit and leaves, shaded and in full sun. Thanks much for the feedback. I will be posting back soon.

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

ok.. thanks for your patience ...... here is a flower closer up.

Thumbnail by leeannconner
Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

and a pict from the top .... im thinking P. angulata.

Thumbnail by leeannconner
Gladstone, OR

I'm still going with Physalis acutifolia, based on the flowers.

Physalis angulata [* flowers yellow with brown blotches]

Physalis acutifolia

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

I also think it looks most like P. acutifolia at this point. The flower appears to be whitish with a greenish center, and the leaves also appear thicker and more undulated than P. angulata, and quite a bit like P. acutifolia. CalFlora does not list this species in your county, but they do list in in both Glenn and Butte, and listings are based on field studies. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a bird ate a fruit in one of the nearby counties and then deposited seed on your property :).

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

Interesting.... I have to go get new picts of the them this morning while they are open. I had to pry that one flower open...and im curious to see if maybe i am looking at mix of species... also question is this.. do they hybrid? I did find another kind of tomatillo like plant i will post too.... these are up in Shasta County too.... at my other nursery at my Moms house. will post soon. thanks Ogon.

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

The Physalis sp. around here do not tend to naturally hybridize, and for plants that do, CalFlora will often list the hybrids as well. I have found more than one species in close proximity before, so it is certainly possible that you have more than one species on your property.

Here is a list of all of the Physalis sp. known to be found in the state of Ca, including both native and non-native species:

And Here is a list of the Physalis sp. known to be found in Shasta Co., which includes only one species and a variety, as well as another genus of plant sometimes mistaken for Physalis:

Gladstone, OR

Physalis spp. [Descriptions]
California Department of Food and Agriculture
[see > "Synonyms" QUOTE: "Complete synonymy for these species is unclear and beyond the scope of this publication."
[see > "General Description" QUOTE: "Species identification is difficult, and taxonomists have yet to completely resolve the taxonomy of the genus. Confusion of species and varieties in publications has been common."]

Comparison of Physalis spp.
California Department of Food and Agriculture

Since the taxonomy seems to be unresolved, and synonymy is not well established (according to the above info) it makes it difficult to give 100% positive ID (and distribution of species) I would think. It looks like a lot more study is needed.

Gladstone, OR

The question remains: is Physalis acutifolia edible or toxic? According to the info on Calflora, it is listed as "toxicity: MAJOR", while the California Department of Food and Agriculture seems to describe it as an edible tomatillo:

Physalis acutifolia
[toxicity: MAJOR]

Wright groundcherry (Physalis acutifolia)
California Department of Food and Agriculture
"Wright groundcherry [Physalis acutifolia], tomatillo: Summer annuals to 1 m tall. Wright groundcherry is a widespread native of Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. It can be weedy in crop fields, but is typically not considered a weed in natural habitats. Tomatillo is cultivated for its edible fruits, but has escaped cultivation in some areas. Introduced from Mexico." [note the lumping of tomatillo with groundcherry and the use of the common name Wright groundcherry instead of specifically using the botanical name in this sentence - the inserted name in brackets is my own, derived from the linked names on the same page.]

leeannconner - you were wondering the same, reviewing your initial comments ( " ive always wondered what these were... a wild tomatillo? ") I wonder then if you could make some seeds available for further research on this topic?

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

What poor writing on the CDFA site! They start off by listing four different groups of physalis, and then later group "Wright groundcherry" with Tomatillo. They also state that Wright groundcherry is native to the SW US and Mexico, and then go on to say that it was introduced from Mexico? CalFlora lists it as a native, I would trust that site more, sad to say.

Jepson makes a vague reference to edibility under the general listing of Physalis before the description of P. acutifolia, which could explain the toxicity listing under CalFlora:
Reference: [Sullivan 1985 Syst Bot 10:426–444]
Some species cultivated for edible or ornamental fruit. Unripe fruit often TOXIC. Needs further study in w US.,7666,7667

I do know that most of the native CA groundcherries are considered toxic when raw, but they are sometimes cooked and eaten. Some are sweet and used like berries, made into pies, preserves, etc, others are used more like a tomato.

Some anecdotal info on edibility... On my fathers side of the family some of our ancestors were native to Northern CA, but unfortunately, the culinary culture did not get passed down. On my mothers side of the family there were some very early settlers to Northern CA, 1830s, before the goldrush when there were no stores or trade supplies to rely on. They relied on personal experience and information supplied by friendly natives. On that side of the family, all wild Physalis were completely avoided as a potential foodsource because they were considered toxic. They came from the midwest, and it is possible they were basing this assessment on experience with other species Physalis found in the midwest rather than actual experience with the native species. Not scientfic evidence by any means, but maybe of interest :).

Gladstone, OR

ogon - I'm in total agreement that the info on the CDFA site is "very loose" (or lax at the very least) and is surprising for an agency that should be trusted as an authority.

The following are reported accounts of edibility:

Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.
sharpleaf groundcherry
see > species account from Native American Ethnobotany (University of Michigan - Dearborn) :

Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.
Sharpleaf Groundcherry; Solanaceae
Pima, Gila River Food (Baby Food)
Fruits eaten raw primarily by children.
Rea, Amadeo M. 1991 Gila River Pima Dietary Reconstruction. Arid Lands Newsletter 31:3-10 (p. 7)

Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.
Sharpleaf Groundcherry; Solanaceae
Pima, Gila River Food (Snack Food)
Fruit eaten primarily by children as a snack food.
Rea, Amadeo M. 1991 Gila River Pima Dietary Reconstruction. Arid Lands Newsletter 31:3-10 (p. 5)


There is no account of edibility in this reference:

Sturtevants Edible Plants of the World
[Physalis acutifolia / Physalis wrightii not listed]


My own opinion, having grown both ground cherries and tomatillos (Physalis spp.) is that the green fruits should generally be regarded as toxic, and ripe fruits are generally cooked in common usage, but I have eaten ground cherries raw, even as a kid when I didn't really know what they were, which were growing in a neighbors garden - even after I was warned by him that they were poisonous!

So from the standpoint of having at least some evidence of edibility, it would be worthwhile to investigate the edibility (or toxicity) of Physalis acutifolia as compared to the cultivated species of tomatillos and ground cherries. One point of interest to me would be if the ripe fruit could be distinguished (visually or otherwise) from the commonly cultivated species of Physalis - whether they more resemble tomatillos or ground cherries (or an intermediary).

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

I would be very interested to know as well! Out of curiousity, two questions for you:

1. How do you propose studying the edibility/toxicity of the P. acutifolia? I have always relied on pre-existing literature or the experience of trusted acquaintances when judging edibility and would be interested to know how I could test it myself?

2. Wouldn't P. acutifolia be a ground cherry? I am a bit confused by your use of the terms "ground cherry" and "tomatillo." I know both are common names and can have different interpretations, but in my corner of the world "tomatillo" is reserved for Physalis philadelphica, while "ground cherry" is used for all of the other Physalis species, save the occassional use of Cape Gooseberry for P. peruviana. Are these terms used differently in your area? Perhap "groundcherry" is applied to only one species of Physalis? Just curious!

Gladstone, OR

ogon - In answering your questions:

1) My basic approach to study the edibility/toxicity of Physalis acutifolia would be based on my past experience of having grown and eaten both tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa) and ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa), and using common sense, instinct and intuition on how Physalis acutifolia compares with those other species.

2) The point of studying Physalis acutifolia would not be to try to fit it into a common name term (since it already has them: sharp leaf ground cherry, sharpleaf groundcherry, Wright groundcherry) but to judge how the fruits compare with the commonly cultivated tomatillos and ground cherries.

In other words, if I went into a market, whether it be Safeway or an open market in Mexico, would I be able to distinguish tomatillos from ground cherries? And how would I know if someone may not have mixed Physalis acutifolia fruits in with those?

The basic answer for me would just be a simple case of visual recognition based on my past experience. Tomatillos are much larger than ground cherries, so that part would be easy enough, but which species they actually are would be much more difficult. For one thing, the botanical names for the commercial tomatillo which is commonly found in U.S. markets may be used interchangeably as either Physalis philadelphica or Physalis ixocarpa. For ground cherries, the only one that I am familiar with is Physalis pruinosa, known as Aunt Molly's ground cherry :

So for Physalis acutifolia, I would see how the fruits compare with Physalis pruinosa. According to this image, they are approximately the same size ( but the pic shows a green fruit and I would never eat green "ground cherries" in any case. So then the question would be, do the fruits of Physalis acutifolia ever ripen, turning yellow (like Physalis pruinosa)? If not, then the case would be clear to me: that it is probably not edible, since the green fruits of Physalis pruinosa and another closely related species (Physalis peruviana) are reported as possibly toxic:

For me, the main focus then on the study of Physalis acutifolia would be the fully ripe fruits: what their general appearance is (green or yellow) and edibility or toxicity. Since there is reported evidence of traditional use as food (as previously cited) then it merits further investigation on that standpoint.

Turning to tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or P. philadelphica) there is considerable variation reported in the color of the ripe fruit, from green to yellow to purple:

Calflora gives the common name of Mexican groundcherry and tomatillo for Physalis philadelphica ( so here is an example of ground cherry and tomatillo being used for the same species.

In my own experience, I have eaten tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa or P. philadelphica) mainly in their fully ripe condition when the fruits turned yellow, and only cooked (never raw) - and only on a very limited basis of cooking green fruits before they became fully ripe and yellow.

Are the green fruits of Physalis philadelphica or Physalis ixocarpa considered toxic?

Physalis philadelphica, Synonym: Physalis ixocarpa
[QUOTE: "Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Latin American green sauces. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green color and tart flavor are the main culinary contributions of the fruit. Purple and red-ripening cultivars often have a slight sweetness, unlike the green- and yellow-ripening cultivars, and are therefore somewhat more suitable for fruit-like uses like jams and preserves."]

Physalis ixocarpa alt Physalis philadelphica
[QUOTE: "Tomatillos are harvested when medium to light green and used at that stage of ripeness. The variety commonly sold in Southern California is yellow when fully ripe but there are varieties that ripen to red and purple."]

For green tomato "salsa verde", are the "green tomatoes" which are used in the various recipes Solanum lycopersicum or Physalis spp.?

Tomatillo Salsa Verde
[this recipe uses Physalis spp.]

Green Tomato Salsa Verde
[this recipe uses Solanum lycopersicum]

And to possibly confuse the situation even more, what is the derivation of the word "tomatillo"?

Scanned image from: "Atlas Cultural de México - Flora" Secretaría de Educación Pública Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, p. 175 (Printed in Mexico)

Physalis philadelphica
Tomate, Tomate de cáscara, Tomate verde

Planta herbácea de hasta 1 m de altura con la flor amarillenta, pero provista de 5 manchas oscuras. Se cultiva extensamente por su fruto, que constituye un ingrediente indispensable en la elaboración de diferentes guisos y salsas. A la cáscara se le atribuyen propiedades medicinales. La especie se conoce también al estado silvestre, comportándose con frecuencia como maleza de parcelas de cultivo.

Physalis philadelphica
Tomato, husk tomato, green tomato

Herbaceous plant to 1 m high with yellow flower that has 5 dark spots. It is widely cultivated for its fruit, which is an essential ingredient in the preparation of various dishes and sauces. Medicinal properties are attributed to the husk. The species is also known in the wild, often behaving as a weed of cultivation plots.

Thumbnail by nrowlett
Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

Thank you for taking the time to share so much information Nrowlett! Puedo leer, escribir, y hablar Espanol, pero aprecio su traduccion adepto!

I would be interested in hearing about what you find in your comparisons if leannconnor is able to send you seeds. I do recall reading on one of the many sources I went through that P. acutifolia fruit matures to purple, but I don't recall the source to find it again or know if it was even a legitimate claim. I have seen no images of fruit from this particular species in any color but green, but who knows. Growing them yourself would certainly clear things up.

I would image that, even if the fruit remain toxic into maturity, they would probably be safe to eat when sufficiently cooked, as is the case with many plants. It would be interesting to know for sure.

It appears that the toxicity of Physalis species in general comes from "solanine and other solanidine alkaloids."

According to this Wikipedia article (which I know is not the most reliable source):
Deep frying potatoes at 170°C (306°F) is known to effectively lower glycoalkaloid levels (because they move into the frying fat), whereas microwaving is only somewhat effective, freeze drying or dehydration has little effect, and boiling has no effect.[6]

I'll look around some more later, but I wonder exactly what it takes to denature the glycoalkaloids found in Physalis?

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

nrowlett re I wonder then if you could make some seeds available for further research on this topic?

I am happy to send you some seeds. I have attached another picture of another one in the field.. it gets hardly any water at all if any.. its sure a hardy plant.... send me your address please and I will send some seeds. i agree this really merits more research. there is another tomatillo like plant in the field.... i will take a picture tonight. .. its flowers are deep yellow.

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Gladstone, OR

Hi leeannconner - Just for the record, could you measure the height and breadth of the plant in your last pic (78a7fc.jpg)? It is really loaded with fruits and appears to be very well adapted to its environment, especially if not receiving any benefits of cultivation such as water or removal of competing vegetation. The general growth habit of the plant seems to be intermediary between the cultivated ground cherry that I have grown (Physalis pruinosa) which grows close to the ground (recumbent), and tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa) which generally grows more erect. Your plant looks more tomatillo-like though I think, and if I knew absolutely nothing about it, I would say that it's possibly some type of dwarf tomatillo.

Thanks for your offer to send seeds. My mailing address:

Nick Rowlett
670 E. Exeter St.
Gladstone, OR 97027

I think it would be best to wait until the husks become completely dry on the plant before picking the fruits later on in the fall, at which time they usually fall from the plants anyway (if they are the same as the cultivated plants) - and even then the fruits often need to ripen more in the husks until they are "dead ripe" so I usually spread them out on trays (indoors, out of the weather) to fully ripen. I'm sure that you're aware by now that very few photographs can be found on the web of the actual fruits (minus the husk) and in all of them, the color is green. Any pics which could show changes in color of the ripening fruits would be important. For this, I would still leave the fruits in the husk (since they tend to last longer in storage) and tear open one side of the husk to inspect the fruits. I've had tomatillos last for up to 1 year if kept in a cool place (stored in the husk and spread on trays).

Your "other tomatillo-like plant with deep yellow flowers" may add a whole other dimension to this whole thing, depending on what it is!

Gladstone, OR

ogon - regarding the presence of glycoalkaloids in Physalis spp., I'm in general agreement with the following article, which is well referenced and reflects my basic understanding of the possible toxicity of these plants:

Tomatillo [and related Physalis species]
"Unripe Physalis berries can contain unsafe levels of solanine a glycoalkaloid that can cause gastrointestinal distress or worse, (Nelson et al . 2006, p. 238). There is great variability in the genus and this may have led to unpleasant surprises."

It's my belief (or assumption) that whatever toxins that are present in the unripe fruits will be greatly diminished when the fruits are fully ripe. Since so little is known about the edibility of Physalis acutifolia (or lack thereof), the greatest amount of caution should be used when testing the fruits at first, starting with a taste of the juice for bitterness (not swallowing it). This would be a safe minimal amount of exposure for all but the most deadly toxins (such as cyanide or ricin) - I'm sure that we're not dealing with that sort of thing here. If bitter, it is a sign not to progress further. That's my simple plan (when and if it ever gets to that stage).

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

Since this species of Physalis grows in my area (neighboring Butte Co) as well, I'm very interested in your study Nrowlett!

I am aware that glycoalkaloid levels in Solanaceae plants reduce as the plants mature, but I was also thinking about "what if" they are too high to consume even when the fruits are ripe. Would there be a way to denature the glycoalkaloids even then so that the fruit could be safely consumed? I know that many toxins can be denatured by heat and blanching, and I haven't gotten the chance to look into this particular toxic further, but the Wikipedia article seemed to insinuate that heat doesn't denature these toxics, though it sounds like oil and possibly other fats can?

I've always been extremely interested in edible native flora. Since my family has lived in areas of Northern California for so long, I often wonder what they ate before non-native foods became available. Even during my lifetime native things like Minor's Lettuce, Elderberries, and Blackberries are still eaten, but I'm sure the menu of consumed natives was much longer in the past. Plus I find it interesting to know what I could eat to survive if there were ever a major disaster. Not that I'm a Doomsday fanatic or anything like that!

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

here they are growing next to each other...its dusk so the picts not that good... the yellow flowered one seems to drop its flowers before a fruit can develop perhaps this is because there is no one to cross pollinate it? i have better pic. close up. i want to reply more but im in a construction zone unable to really be online much.. maybe tonight... good to read the feedback.... :)

Thumbnail by leeannconner
Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

the yellow flowered one have not seen any others around..

Thumbnail by leeannconner
Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

here is the first type again... this one is getting water near my tarmac as a side weed and its about 3 feet wide... it grew soooo fast and started later in the season....., they are scattered over the property in various places.....

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Gladstone, OR

ogon - the possibility of denaturing the glycoalkaloids found in the Nightshades with oils or fats is definitely worthy of investigating - did you find a link to a particular web page that gives a rundown on it? My way of thinking though is that I have never heard of anything like it before, so it's all new to me. I've read a lot about traditional Native American foods and methods of preparation (including Mexican) and don't recall anything that bears a resemblance to it - but if there was, it would be something like "green tomatillos fried in lard" or "tomatillos verdes fritos en manteca de cerdo" / "tomatillos verde frió en la manteca" (whichever is the proper Spanish equivalent would be - your Spanish is undoubtably much better than mine and I rely heavily on aids for translating) - this doesn't seem like the traditional method of preparation, although I know the Mexicans go heavy on the lard in their cooking. I'll be keeping this in mind though since you brought it up.

As a general rule of thumb, I usually don't investigate the possible edibility of wild foods unless I know of a prior traditional usage and in the case of Physalis acutifolia, there is only 2 citations, both from the same source, and I'm unable to view the actual document from which it came, so I'm skeptical at this point about its authenticity:

Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.
Sharpleaf Groundcherry; Solanaceae
Pima, Gila River Food (Baby Food)
Fruits eaten raw primarily by children.
Rea, Amadeo M. 1991 Gila River Pima Dietary Reconstruction. Arid Lands Newsletter 31:3-10 (p. 7)

Physalis acutifolia (Miers) Sandw.
Sharpleaf Groundcherry; Solanaceae
Pima, Gila River Food (Snack Food)
Fruit eaten primarily by children as a snack food.
Rea, Amadeo M. 1991 Gila River Pima Dietary Reconstruction. Arid Lands Newsletter 31:3-10 (p. 5)

I don't know enough about the genus Physalis to know whether it contains some really toxic species to beware of, or whether all the species are so similar that one could be substituted for another with disregard (as far as edibility of the fruits are concerned) - but I suspect that they should be treated as individual species with each one fully evaluated for edibility (or designated as toxic), and not simply lumped together as "tomatillos or ground cherries."

leeannconner - your yellow flowered plant looks like my cultivated tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) - see my pic (which shows 2 ants in the flower). I have read several references which stated that this species is not self-fertile like some of the other Physalis spp. - it has to be cross pollinated with another plant via insects in order for it to develop fruits.

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Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

I agree that the second plant with more yellow colored flowers strongly resembles a true Tomatillo. The Jepson Manual does not recognize Physalis ixocarpa as a species, it is considered a synonym for Physalis philadelphica.

CalFlora information is based on the Jepson Manual, but it does list P. philadelphica (the only Tomatillo species under the Jepson Manual) as naturalized in nearby Butte and Sutter Co.

I had several friends in Corning when I was in High School, and know from experience that tomatos and tomatillos are very common garden plants due to the predominant latino culture of area residents. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them pop up where they were not intentionally planted, from birds or other critters carrying seeds from other gardens to your property.

Nrowlett, I had initially only found the Wikipedia article that made mention of oil denaturing Solanine. I meant to post a hyperlink to the article but apparently left that out. Here it is the quote:
"Deep frying potatoes at 170°C (306°F) is known to effectively lower glycoalkaloid levels (because they move into the frying fat), whereas microwaving is only somewhat effective, freeze drying or dehydration has little effect, and boiling has no effect.[6] Review of Toxicological Literature prepared for Errol Zeiger, Ph.D, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Submitted by Raymond Tice". Testing Status of Agents at NTP (National Toxicology Program). February 1998.
Found in the "Solanine in Potatoes" section of this Wikipedia article:

I would still like to futher research the topic, but haven't found any credible sources yet. I have found a blog discussing "nightshade allergies" which mentions that the toxic symtoms associated with Solanine are sometimes hyper-present in some individuals and absent in others, insinuating a genetic predisposition to naturally processing Solanine or reacting poorly to it. Of course, this is not a credible source either, but takes me in an interesting direction :). Here is the blog:

Hopefully I will have more credible information forthcoming :).

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

WOW... I always figured boiling could lower glycoalkaloid levels good info here... thanks...and .... , i agree the yellow flowered one looks like Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa and now we can see that the two are not really compatable or dont hybrid easy since it does not produce fruit... we have a ton of insects including 20 boxs of bee/hives. so im sure they visit...... i am going to measure and document where teh seeds come from and when fall rolls around you can expect some fruit and seeds in mail :)

Gladstone, OR

On the question of Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa:

I'm finding (much more recently than in the past couple of years) that Physalis ixocarpa is used to describe cultivated or commercially produced tomatillos and their cultivars, while Physalis philadelphica is used to describe the wild or uncultivated tomatillo and that the synonymity probably results in the two "species" being nearly so identical that they cannot be sufficiently differentiated. This is reflected in the vagueness of some web pages in regard to nomenclature and the oft cited comments for the need for more research, clarification and a need for a definite publication to settle the issues.

University of California
Tomatillo or husk tomato (Physalis ixocarpa)
[" ... flowers, clasped halfway by a 5-toothed, green calyx ... yellow with dark-brown spots in the throat."]

(Physalis philadelphica)
["The corolla is ... yellow and sometimes has faint greenish blue or purple spots."]

The source of my tomatillo plants were from seeds obtained several years ago, extracted from fruits which were sold commercially at a local Safeway store, so I think the proper designation would be Physalis ixocarpa in this case. For plants in the wild, which may be natural populations of native plants, or plants which have escaped from cultivation (and may have even become naturalized), then Physalis philadelphica would seem proper - but these are the points best left for botanists to haggle over. If the two "species" cannot be sufficiently delimited they will probably remain synonymous.

A possible distinction (my own observation) is that some flowers are 5-merous and some are 6-merous, and some contain dark spots while others don't. I don't know how consistent this is, or if it is reliable in any way:

Physalis philadelphica flower: [5 dark spots]

Physalis ixocarpa flower: [6 dark spots]

I'll throw this into the mix, since it shows "Two kinds of tomatillos: 'modern' on the left and older 'heirloom' variety 'de milpa' on the right" in the Tomatillo Photo Essay section. (Unfortunately "Andy's article that talks about the two kinds" is not to be found) :

Mariquita Farm (located near Watsonville, CA.)
> Tomatillo Photo Essay
[see pic "Tomatillo plant (weed!) in the spring, among the cultivated rosemary plants."] - I'm wondering what this "weed" species is, and if the fruits were collected to be consumed along with the cultivated species.

This web page also shows a pic of several small sized fruits held in hand, with the comment that the ones in a US supermarket "were nearly the size of regular tomatoes" :

My initial thoughts on reading ogon's comments and referenced links on plant toxins is that I believe that certain individuals will react quite differently to various toxins, depending possibly on ethnicity, cultural dietary habits or other factors (including genetic) but I also think that some degree of tolerance of certain toxins can be acquired by slowly incorporating foods that contain them into the diet over a period of time. Of course one has to be very sensible about this and have some idea on what the limits are (in regard to one's own predisposition and the toxins in question) - and I emphasize that this is only my opinion.

Paradise, CA(Zone 9a)

There are a few different manuals used for bontanical classification, and some separate tomatillo into multiple species, but Jepson, which is used in the CalFlora database, maintains that all tomatillos are a single species. I was only pointing that out to make it clear why I was citing info on P. philadelphica while you were talking about P. ixocarpa. I do agree that their are obvious visual differences between cultivated and wild or escaped tomatillos, and even visible differences in cultivated tomatillos to the extent that they should be separated, though possible into varieties and/or cultivars rather than species.

I've looked a bit further into denaturing the glycoalkaloids found in Physalis sp., particularly Solanine, and it appears that oil or fat are not the denaturing agent, but rather a catalyst. Solanine is reportedly very stable, and it can only be denatured by cooking to temperatures at or above 170*C (338*F). Because oil has a high smoke point, it can be used to cook foods at a higher temperature. Apparently, the internal temperature of the food needs to reach at least 170*C/338*F to successfully denature the glycoalkaloids.

I agree with your opinion that reactions to toxins are likely based both on genetics and history of exposure. This pattern has been documented with other toxins, so it would make sense that it could be the same case for the glycoalkaloids found in Physalis sp. and other Solanaceae plants.

Gladstone, OR

ogon - in reply to your comments regarding Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa, the Jepson treatment of both, and CalFlora:

Physalis philadelphica / USDA :

Physalis philadelphica Lam.
Mexican groundcherry
Jepson >
[ ... corolla 8–15 mm wide, ± rotate, yellow with 5 dark purple spots adaxially ...]

Physalis philadelphica Lam. var. immaculata Waterf.
Mexican groundcherry
Physalis philadelphica Lam. var. immaculata Waterf.
PHIX Physalis ixocarpa auct. non Brot. ex Hornem.
Jepson >
Physalis ixocarpa auct. non Brot. ex Hornem. listed as synonym in Kartesz & Meacham; Physalis ixocarpa Hornem. listed as synonym of Physalis philadelphica in The Jepson Manual [Ed. 1] Current Status: unresolved

Physalis ixocarpa / USDA = Physalis philadelphica Lam. var. immaculata

Physalis philadelphica / CalFlora
Synonyms: Physalis ixocarpa
[NOTE > "Toxicity: MAJOR"]

Physalis philadelphica Lam. var. immaculata Waterf. / CalFlora
Name Status: Recognized as current by ICPN (unresolved) +
[NOTE > "Toxicity: MAJOR"]

My comments (nrowlett): The USDA recognizes two taxa for Physalis philadelphica: the type species (Physalis philadelphica Lam.) and a variety (Physalis philadelphica Lam. var. immaculata Waterf.); the latter being synonymous with Physalis ixocarpa and not accepted as valid by Jepson.

CalFlora recognizes Physalis philadelphica as synonymous with Physalis ixocarpa, and a questionable note regarding the name status for Physalis philadelphica var. immaculata - Also note the "Toxicity: MAJOR" status that CalFlora gives for these two taxa, both of which unquestionably bear edible fruits. The only explanation I have for this is that it is a reference to the toxicity of the foliage.

As previously stated, in regard to my plants, the source of which were seeds extracted from commercially produced fruits, I feel that Physalis ixocarpa is the most appropriate designation for my plants, having done numerous searches on the web and comparing the results to my plants.

Gladstone, OR

leeannconner - I forgot to mention: don't give up on your yellow-flowering plant just yet. I noticed with my plants that they have the habit of dropping flowers for quite a while before finally setting fruit.

As for the possibility of hybrids between the 2 species, I think it is a remote possibility, after reading what Luther Burbank wrote about them > "I have made hybridizing experiments not only with the common species [Physalis] and the foreign ones already mentioned [Physalis alkekengi], but also with other species from the west coast of Mexico, and from Arizona and Texas. But hitherto I have been unable to secure a single hybrid."

Quote from >
Burbank, Luther, 1849-1926 / Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application (1914)

Vol. VII, p. 225 - 228
"The Interesting Ground Cherry"

Gladstone, OR


PHYTOLOGIA - an international journal to expedite plant systematic, phytogeographical and ecological publication

Phyiologxa (June 1994) 76(6):441-457.


John T. Kartesz & Kancheepuram N. Gandhi

North Carolina Botanical Garden, Dept. of Biology, Coker Hall, University of
North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3280, U.S.A.


The nomenclature and taxonomy of the following are discussed:
... Physalis ixocarpa, Physalis philadelphica, ... Physalis ixocarpa Brot. ex Hornem. var. immaculata (Waterfall) Kartesz & Gandhi, comb. nov. and var. parviflora (Waterfall) Kartesz & Gandhi, comb, nov.; ...

Vol. 76 June 1994 No. 6
452 PHYTOLOGIA volume 76(6):441-457 June 1994


Physalis ixocarpa, P. philadelphica

Regarding the occurrence of Physalis ixocarpa Brot. ex Hornem. in North
America (north of Mexico), Waterfall (1958, p. 160) gave its Canadian range as
Ottawa and its US range as CA, DC, DE, MA, MD, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, TX,
VA, VT, WA, and WV. He did not mention the species P. philadelphica Lam.,
which is found in Mexico and Central America. However, in his treatment
of Physalis in Mexico, Central America, and West Indies, Waterfall (1967,
p. 213) cited P. ixocarpa as a synonym of P. philadelphica. Furthermore,
Waterfall recognized two varieties within P. philadelphica: var. immaculata
and var. parviflora. Gleason L Cronquist (1991, p. 403) followed Waterfall's
1967 treatment and stated that P. philadelphica occasionally escaped from
cultivation in the northeastern United States.

Based on her morphological and cytological analyses, Fernandes (1970, pp.
357-366) segregated Physalis ixocarpa from the P. philadelphica complex. She
stated that P. ixocarpa has small flowers (calyx 4.00-5.25 mm long, 2.5-3.5
mm wide; corolla 5-10 mm in diameter; filaments 1.00-2.50(-2.75) mm long;
anthers 1.25-1.75(-2.00) mm long; style 1.75-3.00 mm long), clavate stigma,
and satellited chromosomes. The species P. philadelphica (mentioned as P.
ixocarpa auct. non Brot. ex Hornem.) has large flowers (calyx ca. 8 mm long
and 10 mm wide; corolla (10-)13-25(-30) mm in diameter; filaments ca. 5 mm
long; anthers 3-4 (-5) mm long; style ca. 8 mm long), and lacks satellited
chromosomes. Hudson (1983, p. 13; 1986, p. 417), who accepted Fernan-
des' conclusion, stated that P. philadelphica vars. immaculata and parviflora
are self-compatible, and do not cross with P. philadelphica var. philadelphica,
which is self-incompatible. He concluded that vars. immaculata and parviflora
of P. philadelphica should be referred to P. ixocarpa.

Based on Fernandes' and Hudson's findings, we treat Physalis ixocarpa
and P. philadelphica as two distinct species, and exclude P. philadelphica from
North America, north of Mexico. Furthermore, we transfer vars. immaculata
and parviflora to P. ixocarpa, and make the two new combinations given below.

Physalis ixocarpa Brot . ex Hornem., Suppl. Hort. Bot. Hafin. 26. 1819.

Physalis ixocarpa Brot. ex Hornem. var. immaculata (Waterfall)
Kartesz & Gandhi, comb. nov. BASIONYM: Physalis philadelphica
Lam. var. immaculata Waterfall, Rhodora 69:215. 1967.

Physalis ixocarpa Brot. ex Hornem. var. parviflora (Waterfall) Kar-
tesz &: Gandhi, comb. nov. BASIONYM: Physalis philadelphica
Lam. var. parviflora Waterfall, Rhodora 69:215. 1967.

Kartesz &: Gandhi: Nomenclaturad notes for North American Aoia XIII 453

The authors thank Drs. Guy Nesom (TEX) and Larry E. Brown (Houston
Community College) for their review of this article. The authors also thank Dr.
Thomas Duncan (UC) for permitting the senior author to assess the specimens
of Frangula and Rhamnus.


Bartram, W. 1791. Travels Carolina. James k Johnson, Philadelphia, Penn-

Bentham, G. k J.D. Hooker. 1862-67. Gen. PI. vol. 1. A. Black, London,
Great Britain.

Brummitt, R.K. 1993. Vascular Plant Families and Genera. Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew, Great Britain.

Camp, W.H., et al. 1947. International Rules of Botanical Nomenclature
(compiled from various sources). Brittonia 6:1-120.

De Candolle, A.P. 1825. Prodr., vol. 2. Treuttel k Wurtz, Paris, France.

Clapham, A.R., et al. 1987. Flora of British Isles, ed. 3. Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, Cambridge, Great Britain.

Dandy, J.E. 1967. Index of generic names of vascular plants 1753-74. Reg-
num Veg. vol. 51. Utrecht, The Netheriands.

Fabricius, P.C. 1759. Enum. Litteris loannis Drimbornii, Helmstedt.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Man. Bot., ed. 8. American Book Co., New
York, New York.

Fernandes, R.B. 1970. Sur I'identification d'une espece de Physalis souspon-
tanee au Portugal. Bol. Soc. Brot. 44:343-366.

Gleason, H.A. k A. Cronquist. 1991. Man. Vase. Pi NE US., ed. 2. The
New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Gray, A. 1856. Man. Bot., ed. 2. George P. Putnam k Co., New York, New

1867. Man. Bot., ed. 5. Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, k Co., New York, New York.

Corning, CA(Zone 8a)

Wow... this PHYTOLOGIA is a great resource... for being able to identify new species and publish!

Great description on these!

Based on Fernandes' and Hudson's findings, we treat Physalis ixocarpa
and P. philadelphica as two distinct species, and exclude P. philadelphica from
North America, north of Mexico. Furthermore, we transfer vars. immaculata
and parviflora to P. ixocarpa, and make the two new combinations given below

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