Sunday, October 3, 2010

Native Plants of Franklin

Greetings Franklin! It has been two weeks since I posted the last mystery plant - sorry for that unexpected delay. The hint for this week's plant is "the fruit is a lot more interesting than the flowers." And here is the flower:

I cheated here: I had to aim the camera up into the flower to get a good picture. The flowers are a pretty yellow on the inside, and they bloom from summer all the way through until the fall, but they hang downward like bells, so they aren't particularly showy.

The plant itself is a foot or two high, a bit fuzzy, perennial, and , if you know your veggie garden plants at all, you might think it looks like a tomato or potato plant. That's because it's a relative. This is called ground cherry, or more specifically, "clammy ground cherry", or Physalis heterophylla. And just like its more well-known veggie cousins, this plant has edible parts.

Ground cherry is perhaps most closely related to the tomatillo. Just like the tomatillo, it produces edible fruit in a papery husk. This is what the husks look like when they are developing.

And these are the husks when the fruit is ready to harvest. Which, by the way, is right now, so get out there and look in the weeds for this plant. If you find some, you may get a tasty treat.

The fruit itself is a marble-sized berry that is yellow or orangy when ripe, and tastes like a combination of a tomato and pineapple.

One word of caution: like the tomato, tomatillo, and potato, this plant is in the nightshade family of plants. Nightshade plants are all typically poisonous to some degree, which is why we don't eat tomato leaves or green potatoes. To be safe, don't eat any portion of the ground cherry plant except for the ripe berries.

But don't let this put you off from sampling these delicious native fruits! Ground cherries used to be more common as backyard vegetable garden plants, but seem to have been forgotten in recent years. I hear they make good pies, but I wouldn't know, because I ate all of my berries before I had a chance to cook them.

Here is next week's mystery plant. It's a tree actually.

Here's a hint: this tree is nearly extinct. I'll tell you all about the effort to restore the tree in next week's post, along with where you can go to see it growing in and around Franklin.

Michelle Clay writes about gardening here in Franklin at the Clueless Gardeners Blog.

Franklin, MA

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