Friday, October 30, 2009

LAST CALL - Chinese Lanterns and Pocket Watches

These seed pods, a common sight in fall, are known as Chinese Lanterns. They are native to Southeast Europe and Japan, but not to China. Their name comes from their resemblance to Chinese paper lanterns or Japanese lanterns. So, I ask you: why not Asian Lanterns?  They are also called Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato, Wintercherry or Jerusalem Cherry. I don't know if they grow in Israel, either! The seeds and leaves are highly poisonous. They are a  member of the Physalis or nightshade family, as are tomatoes, potatoes, and tomatillos. Inside the paper husk is a fleshy fruit which contains the seed. They do look and feel very much like tomatillos, but don't eat them! In spite of being poisonous, the plant has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes such as, as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, cough suppressant, bed-wetting, malaria treatment and induction of early labor. I've noticed that when I look up the medicinal value of a plant they almost all were used for these maladies. I caution you to never plant them in your garden, lovely as they are this time of year. Plant them in someone else's garden if you have an ax to grind with them. They are very invasive. One little piece of the fleshy, underground rhizome will sprout a new plant. They will be there forever, impossible to eradicate. One of my sisters used to give pocket watches to the men in her life (and she had plenty). On the inside cover, she would inscribe a sweet sentiment with her name. She said that no man would ever get rid of a pocket watch, even if he dumped her. So, long after she was gone over the horizon, leaving a trail of dust, her gift watch would remain forever in the guy's life. It might be stuffed into a dresser drawer, but it would always be there. My sister died fifteen years ago, but I'm sure that out there somewhere, are pocket watches bearing her name. If a fellow gardener offers to give you Chinese Lantern plants, think pocket watches. These glowing lanterns were given to me by a friend whose garden I know well. I thanked her, but said "Good God! I hope these didn't come from your garden!" I didn't recall seeing them in her yard. "Oh no, I stole them from Ellen Masters garden," was her casual reply. I was shocked by this, but accepted the gift, rather like a pocket watch. Maybe these plants are truly more poisonous than previously thought!


  1. Nice! Reminds me of my childhood. I don't recall seeing these for a long time.

  2. These are beautiful pictures... but as you said they are poisonous. I remember my mother always telling me to wash my hands after touching them. (Funny thing is a neighbor used to give us a handfull of them in the Fall for decorations. She would ask Mom if she'd like a "cutting" and bragged that she was very good at growing them! LOL Mom would say "Oh, no thank you... I enjoy getting them in the Fall to set on my fireplace mantle." She knew they were hard to kill, but they are beautiful and do look like lanterns when the light shines thru them.