During some recent field work north of Toronto I stumbled across the strangest looking plant in a fairly wild section of public lands. The bright orange colour of the fruiting bodies drew me in immediately and forced an impromptu googling session. I was familiar with ground cherries but never any this vibrant.
Here is what I found:
Physalis alkekengi (bladder cherry, Chinese lantern, Japanese-lantern, strawberry groundcherry, or winter cherry It is easily identifiable by the large, bright orange to red papery covering over its fruit, which resembles paper lanterns. It grows naturally in the region covering southern Europe to south Asia and Japan. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with spirally arranged leaves 6–12 cm long and 4–9 cm broad. The flowers are white, with a five-lobed corolla 10–15 mm across, with an inflated basal calyx which matures into the papery orange fruit covering, 4–5 cm long and broad.
Peterson’s field guide reports these to be edible when ripe but offers a warning that unripe berries and the leaves are poisonous.
Although the specific species I found is a non native plant, some species are native to the Americas such as the Smooth ground-cherry (Physalis virginiana Mill. var. subglabrata (Mackenz. and Bush) U.T. Waterfall) and clammy ground-cherry (Physalis heterophylla Nees).
Here are a couple shots of my find
Cheers from the wild,