Physalis heterophylla is a perennial herb 20-90 cm tall, colonial from deep, thick, fleshy rhizomes; stems erect to spreading, branching, upper parts sticky-hairy (viscid), hairs of different lengths, both glandular and nonglandular (Radford et al. 1968).
Leaves alternate, 3-11 cm long, 3-8 cm wide, rhombic, broadly egg- to lance-shaped, tip pointed, base rounded to slightly lobed, surface hairy on both sides, puckered by impressed veins, margin usually irregularly wavy and toothed.
Flowers yellow with 5 dark brownish spots in center, corolla 1-1.8 cm long, 1.5-2.5 cm across top, radially symmetrical, tubular, funnel-shaped, margin slightly lobed, outer surface glandular-hairy; calyx tubular, 0.7-1.2 cm long, 5-lobed, lobes shorter than tube, outer surface densely glandular hairy, hairs of various lengths; stamens 5, fused only at base, surrounded by tufts of branching white hairs, stalks (filaments), 0.3-0.4 cm long, dark purple, club-shaped (clavate), anthers 0.3-0.4 cm long, usually yellow; ovary superior, above a green nectary; flowers facing downward on curved stalk (pedicel) solitary in axils; flowers nodding, solitary in axils; blooms May-July; pollinated by bees these may include Colletes latitarsis and C. willistoni, plasterer bees, as well as some Panurgine and Halictine bees (Hilty 2006). This information was collected in Illinois.
Fruit fleshy, green, becoming yellow, about 1 cm long, 2-parted, pulpy, seeds numerous, pale brown, elliptic (Hilty 2006); fruiting calyx 2.5-3 cm long and about as wide, covering fruit in a thin, 5-angled, membranous, veiny “bag” or “husk” to 4 cm long, 2.5 cm wide, tip pointed, stem end depressed (Radford et al. 1968; Yatskievych 2006); fruits mature July-Sept.; eaten by some birds, including wild turkeys, and small mammals including skunks, white-footed mice (Martin et al. 1951).
Wetland status: UPL.
Frequency in NYC: Very infrequent.
Habitat: Dry, open woods, fields. Sandy soil.
Notes: Plant is toxic but ripe fruit is edible (Yatskievych 2006). The main toxin is solanine, a glycoalkaloid found in many Solanaceae (Kingsbury 1964; Hilty 2006). The name “Physalis” is derived from the Greek “physa” for “bladder” P. ixocarpa is the Central American fruit referred to as the tomatl by native people from Mexico and Guatemala., now called the “tomatillo” or “husk tomato” and widely available in North America (Heiser 1987).