The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Clammy Ground Cherry


Scientific Name
Physalis heterophylla Nees var. heterophylla


Plant Family
Nightshade (Solanaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer to Late Summer Flowering



Clammy Ground Cherry is a native perennial forb growing 1 to 2-1/2 feet high on stems where the upper part is covered with dense soft hair. Stems branch frequently, are erect initially but when later in fruit are generally decumbent.

The leaves are large, broadly ovate, with a pointed tip and a rounded to heart-shaped base leading to a stalk. The margins have irregular wavy teeth or may be entire. Both surfaces are densely hairy with fine white hair, some of which may be glandular.

The inflorescence consists of solitary stalked pendant flowers that rise from the junction of two divergent stems.

Flowers: The green calyx and flower stalk is glandular-hairy; the calyx has 5 triangular lobes. The corolla is funnel shaped, greenish-yellow with 5 shallow lobes that are widest in the middle and taper to an abrupt tip. Inside the corolla there is a brownish to purplish spotted area in the center of each lobe. The five stamens have purple filaments with yellow-ish purple anthers which form around the central ovary and obscure the style.

Seed: Fertile flowers form an inflated hairy husk from the calyx; it is slightly longer than wide, that contains a single 1/3 to 1/2 inch diameter round berry, green initially, turning yellow at maturity and containing a number of seeds. The husk is closed at the tip and turns brown at maturity.


Habitat: Clammy Ground Cherry grows in dry areas, prairies, woods, in rich to disturbed soils. Full sun to partial sun with moderate moisture. The plants have flowers, buds forming, husks and maturing berries all at the same time. It grows from a rhizomatous root system and can spread vegetatively to form colonies.

Names: The genus Physalis is derived from the Greek word physa, meaning 'a bladder' and referring to the inflated calyx at seed time. The species heterophylla (and the variety name) is a compound word from the Greek with hetero signifying 'diverse' or 'varies' and phylla for 'leaves', thus 'varied leaves'. The common name of 'clammy' refers to the touch of the downy leaves. More notes on the species at bottom of the page.

The author name for the plant classification, ‘Nees’ is for Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1778-1858) German botanist who described around 7000 plant species, authored a number of monographs and was a Professor at Erlangen, Bonn and Breslau.

Comparisons: While this species is the most frequently found, there are two others that are only slightly different. P. virginiana the Virginia Ground Cherry, has more lance-like leaves that can be hairy but not as densely so as P. heterophylla. P. longifolia, the Long-leaf Ground Cherry has lance-like leaves that are mostly hairless, as is the stem and the calyx. The flowers have the same structure and color.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

ground cherry drawing

Above: The inflorescence consists of solitary stalked flowers that rise from the junction of two divergent stems. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: 1st photo - The flower stalk, calyx and outer surface of the corolla are very hairy. 2nd photo - The inside of the corolla is brownish to purplish spotted. The stamens form around the central ovary.

Flower calyx flower corolla

Below: 1st photo - Leaf margins may be with irregular wavy teeth or entire. Surfaces, especially the underside (2nd photo) are very hairy.

leaf leaf underside

Below: The calyx inflates as the berry forms. The outside is very hairy.

pod young pod

Below 1st photo - The berry, shown here the green stage, turns yellow at maturity and contains many seeds. 2nd photo - the stems have dense hair and usually become decumbent as the season progresses.

green fruit stem


Notes: Clammy Ground Cherry is indigenous to the Garden area but not to the Garden itself. Eloise Butler brought in the first plants in Sept. 1920 which she obtained from J. W. Babcocks garden, just east of the Garden. Eloise was renting quarters there each summer. Martha Crone noted it in bloom in 1939. There are no other planting notes. In Minnesota, P. heterophylla is found in most counties south of a line between St. Louis and Clay counties. In North America it is found throughout the U.S. and Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

The MN DNR lists two species of Physalis native and found in Minnesota: P heterophylla var heterophylla, Clammy Ground Cherry; and P. virginiana, the Virginia Ground Cherry. These two are rather widespread. The University of Minnesota Herbarium also reports other species that have been reported but without specimens ever collected including P. longifolia, Long-leaf Ground Cherry. Two other species from the Nightshade family in Minnesota are found in the Garden - Black Nightshade and Climbing Nightshade.

The Genus Physalis: An alternate name for these species is "husk-tomato" - the small fruit resembles a tomato and is said to taste like one, although strongly, and it ripens within the inflated calyx - thus a "husk". Some species are annuals and some grow from rhizomatous roots and are perennial. They are widespread. As members of the Nightshade family, they have been sought out for medicinal purposes. One of the species not reported to be in Minnesota, P. longifolia, the Long-leaved Ground Cherry, also known as the Wild Tomatillo, is of particular interest in cancer research. This article from the University of Kansas explains that. Domesticated tomatillos have long been used as foodstuff by Native American peoples. Harrington (Ref. #9) and others report that most fecal samples from archaeological sites in the southwest contain seeds of the species.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.