Crooked Run Valley
Virginia groundcherry (Physalis virginiana)
Physalis intermedia Rydb.
Physalis lanceolata auct. non Michx. p.p.
Physalis monticola C. Mohr
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for Virginia groundcherry is Physalis virginiana Mill. The genus Physalis is derived from the Greek word physa, meaning 'a bladder' and referring to the inflated calyx at seed time.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Virginia Ground Cherry is an native perennial forb growing 1 to 2 feet high on stems where the upper part is sparsely hairy to smooth on some varieties. Stems have 4+ ridges and branch frequently, mostly angled, creating a bushy effect and are erect initially but when later in fruit are generally decumbent.
Leaves: Leaves are to 3 inches long and ¾ inch wide with a pointed tip and tapering at the base, narrowly lance-like, with a rounded tip and a base that is usually not symmetrical, leading to a stalk. The stalks covered in stiff hairs. The leaf edges are toothless or with a few irregular teeth, sometimes a bit wavy or may be entire. Surfaces are variously covered in short, hairs, sometimes hairless.
Flowers: The inflorescence consists of solitary stalked flowers that rise from the leaf axils. Flowers hang down on stalks that arise from a leaf axil. Flowers are about ¾ inch across, bell-shaped with 5 shallow lobes, pale yellow with dark greenish to purple-brown spots on the inside at the base of the throat, and hairy on the outer surface. There are 5 creamy yellow stamens with yellow or purple tips. The calyx has 5 pointed lobes and is very hairy. One plant has a few to about a dozen flowers on branching stems.
Fruit/Seed: Fertile flowers form an inflated calyx slightly longer than wide, that contains a single 1/3 to 1/2 inch diameter round berry. Fruit is a green berry that ripens to red-orange. The berry is covered in a hairy papery shell shaped like an inverted tear drop, indented at the stem end, that swells up as the fruit matures.
The fruit is edible when ripe.
Roots: It grows from a rhizomatous root system and can spread vegetatively to form colonies. The root system can create vast colonies of plants.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Virginia groundcherry propogates itself primarily from vegetative spread (rhizomes).
HABITAT TYPES: Ground cherry can be found in dry sandy or rocky woods, openings and clearings and rich soils in open woods and prairies.
It also can be aggressively invasive in disturbed areas.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Virginia groundcherry prefers full sun to partial shade with moderate moisture. It thrives in light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil; it can grow in acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: June to September.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Virginia groundcherry is native from Georgia north to Maine, and ranges west to New Mexico, Colorado,
Wyoing, the Dakotas into Manitoba. While absent from most of the Maritime Provinces, it occurs in Quebec and Ontario.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Insufficient information pertaining to fauna and flora relationships.
Native Americans traditionally used various Physalis species for eye infections, treating open wounds, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Physalis species are now studied for there potential health benefits. One study done specifically on Virginia groundcherry was intended to investigate the antibacterial potential of Virginia groundcherry. The overall purpose of this study was to identify the chemical compounds of Virginia groundcherry that could be used to make antibiotics. The researchers introduced extracts from the plant to twelve different bacteria cultures. They found that extracts from the plant inhibited the growth of eight out of the twelve strains of bacteria. The identified the chemical compound in the plant that inhibits bacteria growth to be withanolide. The whole plant showed bacteria inhibiting properties but extracts from the shoots of the plants had the most effect, and extracts from the roots of the plant showed the least effect.
Along with other members of the Physalis Genus are aggressive species and have been found to be an invasive in some parts of the United States. A specific example of the aggressive capabilities of Virginia groundcherry is its effect on soy bean production in Kentucky. The berries are often crushed during the soy bean harvest which allows the Physalis seeds to cling to the soybean seeds. Certification standards for soy bean production requires that no more than 62/ha black nightshade or ground cherry plants should be found at inspection, entry for. This problem has led to scientific studies on ways to reduce black nightshade and ground cherry populations around soybean farms.