H. Perennial & Old Fashioned Garden Plants & Flowers by John Wood
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Physalis Alkekengi - Hardy Perennial
Author: John Wood
Physalis Alkekengi Described.
Physalis Alkekengi - Winter Cherry; Nat. Ord. Solanaceæ.
This plant begins to flower in summer; but as a garden subject its blossom is of no value; the fine large berries, however, which are suspended in orange-yellow husks of large size, are very ornamental indeed, and form a very pleasing object amongst other "autumnal tints." It is not till October that the fruit begins to show its richness of colour. The plant is quite hardy, though a native of southern Europe; it is also herbaceous and perennial, and it has been grown in this country for 330 years. Still, it is not to be seen in many gardens. An old common name for it was "Red Nightshade," and Gerarde gives a capital illustration of it in his Herbal, under the name Solanum Halicacabum.
P. Alkekengi grows to the height of about two feet. The stems of the plant are very curious, being somewhat zigzag in shape, swollen at the nodes, with sharp ridges all along the stems; otherwise, they are round and smooth. The leaves are produced in twins, their long stalks issuing from the same part of the joint; they are of various forms and sizes, but mostly heart-shaped, somewhat acute, and 2in. to 4in. long. The little soft creamy white flowers spring from the junction of the twin leaf-stalks; their anthers are bulky for so small a flower. The calyx continues to grow after the flower has faded, and forms the Chinese-lantern-like covering of the scarlet berry; the latter will be over ½in. in diameter, and the orange-coloured calyx 1½in., when fully developed. In autumn the older stems cast their leaves early, when the finely-coloured fruit shows to advantage; the younger stems keep green longer, and continue to flower until stopped by the frost. To this short description I may add that of Gerarde, which is not only clear but pleasantly novel: "The red winter Cherrie bringeth foorth stalkes a cubite long, rounde, slender, smooth, and somewhat reddish, reeling this way and that way by reason of his weakness, not able to stande vpright without a support: whereupon do growe leaues not vnlike to those of common nightshade, but greater; among which leaues come foorth white flowers, consisting of five small leaues; in the middle of which leaues standeth out a berrie, greene at the first, and red when it is ripe, in colour of our common Cherrie and of the same bignesse, which is enclosed in a thinne huske or little bladder of a pale reddish colour, in which berrie is conteined many small flat seedes of a pale colour. The rootes be long, not vnlike to the rootes of Couch grasse, ramping and creeping within the vpper crust of the earth farre abroade, whereby it encreaseth greatly."
The stems, furnished with fruit of good colour, but otherwise bare, make capital decorations for indoors, when mixed with tall grasses, either fresh or dried, and for such purposes this plant is worth growing; any kind of soil will do, in an out-of-the-way part, but if in shade, the rich colour will be wanting.
Flowering period, June to frosts.
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