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Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Tomatillo groundcherry  (Physalis philadelphica)

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Life stages of tomatillo groundcherry flower and fruit mature plant flowering stem seeds seedling

Tomatillo groundcherry is a summer annual broadleaf found in the San Francisco Bay region, Central Valley, Sierra Nevada foothills, Central and South Coast, South Coast Ranges, and Peninsular Ranges of California up to 2300 feet (700 m). There are many similar groundcherry species and varieties and correct identification has proven difficult. Publications have commonly confused species and varieties. Taxonomists are still working on resolving Physalis taxonomy.

Tomatillo goundcherry is cultivated for its edible berries and in some areas has spread away from cultivated areas. The leaves and immature fruits of some Physalis species may be toxic when ingested. Cutleaf groundcherry, a related species, has been reported to be toxic to livestock.


Tomatillo groundcherry is found in orchards, vineyards, crop fields, roadsides, fields, waste areas, and disturbed open sites.


The cotyledons (seed leaves) are lance shaped and about 1/8 to 1/2 inch (3–12 mm) long and 1/25 to 1/6 inch (1–4 mm) wide. Later leaves are egg- to lance shaped, increasingly larger, and sometimes are hairy. The weak taproot is equipped with many fibrous lateral roots.

Mature plant

The mature plant is upright to bushy or sprawling and can grow to 3-1/3 feet (1 m) tall. Leaves are variable, hairless to slightly hairy, particularly on new growth. Leaves are somewhat egg shaped, with smooth or inconsistently toothed edges, 2/5 to 3-1/5 inches (1.5–8 cm) long. They alternate along the stem and toward the stem tips, roughly opposite to each other. The weak taproot of the seedling develops into a shallow fibrous root system.


Flowers bloom from June through October and usually grow singly on flowering stems. They are bowl shaped and yellow with 5 dark purple spots at the center, have a diameter of about 1/3 to 3/5 inch (8–15 mm).


The immature fruit is a green berry enclosed in a green, spherical to egg-shaped, ten-ribbed, hanging papery husk, mostly 3/5 to 1-1/3 inch (15-35 mm) long. As the fruit develops it continues to increase in size, eventually splitting the husk. Berries change in color and are usually purple at maturity. The husk eventually turns brown and the berry, filled with many seeds, disperses with the husk.


Seeds are yellowish, almost round- to kidney shaped, compressed, roughly 1/12 inch (2 mm) long, with tiny pitting on the surface.


Tomatillo groundcherry reproduces by seed. Berries fall near the parent plant, but can disperse farther distances in water and with human and animal activities such as cultivation or digging. Animals can disperse seeds through their droppings after eating the berries.

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